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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!

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!)

Blueberry Oatmeal Crumble Bars – An Easy, Delicious Addition To Any Brunch!

28 Feb

Ah, Brunch. It’s the best meal ever, don’t you think? It’s a meal where basically anything goes – breakfast items, lunch items, sweet and savory on the same plate. Plus it’s often served late enough that you can sleep in, and alcohol is usually on the menu too – what could be better? I am always looking for new additions to my brunch recipe rotation, and when I stumbled across this one for Blueberry Oatmeal Crumble Bars, I knew I had to give them a shot for my next brunch date:

Blueberry Oatmeal Crumble Bars
INGREDIENTS:
Crust and Crumble Topping
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup old-fashioned whole-rolled oats (don’t use quick cook or instant, they’re finer and behave like flour and will make mixture too dry)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
pinch salt, optional and to taste

Blueberry Layer
12 ounces (2 cups) blueberries (fresh or frozen; I used frozen and didn’t thaw)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch

DIRECTIONS:
-Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray; set aside. Lining the pan helps with cleanup and is recommended.
-Make Crust and Crumble Topping – In a large, microwave-safe bowl melt the butter, about 1 minute on high power. Add the flour, oats, sugars, optional salt, and stir to combine. Mixture will be dry and sandy with some larger, well-formed crumble pieces. Set 1 heaping cup mixture aside to be sprinkled on later as crumble topping.
Transfer remaining mixture to prepared pan, and using a spatula or your fingers, hard-pack the mixture to create an even, smooth, flat crust; set aside.
-Make Blueberry Layer – In a large mixing bowl (same one used for crust and crumble is okay), add all ingredients and toss to combine. If sugar hasn’t dissolved fully that’s okay because it liquifies while baking. Evenly distribute blueberry mixture over the crust.
-Evenly sprinkle with the reserved heaping 1 cup crumble topping mixture. Before sprinkling, I squeeze the mixture in my palm to encourage bigger crumble pieces to form.
-Bake for about 55 minutes, or until edges are set and center has just set. Crumble topping should appear set and very pale golden. I used frozen berries without thawing and the pan was very cold going into the oven. If using fresh berries, baking time will be reduced, but I’m not sure by how much, I’d guess at least 10-15 minutes, possibly less. Bars may take longer than 55 minutes if blueberries are very juicy. Watch your bars, not the clock, when evaluating doneness. Place pan on a wire rack and allow bars to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. If you try to slice bars before they’ve cooled completely, they’ll be extremely messy and could fall apart. Bars will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 1 week, in the fridge for up to 10 days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

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Various stages of bar preparation

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Adorable tiny sous chef preps the crust

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Layering it up and getting it ready for the oven

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The finished product – golden and delicious

It was easy to put this together (especially since I had a helper!) and get it in the oven – it took a bit longer to bake than 55 minutes for me though – I would say an additional 15 on top of that before it even started to brown on top

Additionally, I should have waited longer than half an hour after it came out to try and cut it – it was a MESS. Next time I think I will leave them to cool/set up overnight before attempting to cut them

All that being said – they were pretty tasty – the buttery crumble of the crust against the slightly tart berries was lovely – an easy, delicious addition to brunch – one that could easily be changed up with different fruits/berries depending on the season!

Peanut Butter Balls – An Easy No-Bake Addition To Any Get Together

28 Dec

Growing up, my aunts always made peanut butter balls at Christmas time – there were never a ton, but those first to the cookie trays would be rewarded with the sweet heaven that is peanut butter & sugar mixed together and dipped in chocolate. They have become more scarce over the years, and this year I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands – if I wanted peanut butter balls at Christmas time, I would just have to make them myself!

When I was looking for a recipe, I was intrigued by the ones that included crispy rice cereal in the peanut butter mixture – I really loved the idea of that bite/crunch to cut through the sweetness – so I decided on This Recipe

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
(Recipe Courtesy of Idaho Mom)
Ingredients:
2 c peanut butter
2 c powdered sugar
3 c rice krispies
2 bags chocolate chips, melted or 1 bag light cocoa wilton candy melts

Directions:
mix the first 3 ingredients together and then roll into balls.
dip the balls in chocolate to coat.
let the chocolate peanut butter balls set to harden.

Pretty simple, right? 

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As I assembled my ingredients, only the furry helper emerged (he sensed the presence of peanut butter). But once I turned on the mixer, the toddler helper came scurrying into the kitchen wanting in on the action

 

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He helped me mix up the peanut butter and sugar – and I added a little vanilla for flavor, too

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I had the help of both my boys when it came to making the balls! I actually froze them for a while – just to ensure they weren’t going to fall apart on me when it was chocolate time!

 

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I used part wilton melts and part chocolate chips – worked fine for melting/coating the balls. And I also did some fully coated, and some half-coated in chocolate – just for variety’s sake

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My helper really enjoyed the finished product (and the furry helper was dying to get in on it too – but sadly couldn’t partake – see him trying to sneak in on the balls?)

These were easy to make, and the ingredients were all things I already had on hand. They didn’t turn out exactly like I remember the peanut butter balls of my childhood- but they are still delicious!

Easy, No Bake “Reindeer Bait” Is The Perfect Christmas Treat

21 Dec

These days, my Facebook feed is mostly composed of food videos – you know the ones – that have cutesy music in the background and take you through a recipe in under a minute and make it look not only delicious – but easy and super enticing? I try not to be so easily taken in by a flashy video – but I have to admit – I love a good recipe – and enjoy watching these types of videos. I don’t often end up making them in real life, but this one was too good to pass up. I had already done a ton of Christmas Cookie Baking – so the fact that this one didn’t involve the oven sealed the deal for me – to the store I went to pick up the few ingredients I didn’t already have on hand for this delicious Reindeer Bait!

Reindeer Bait
(Recipe Courtesy of Delish)

Ingredients
3 c. corn chex
2 c. wheat chex
2 c. mini pretzels
2 c. mini marshmallows
1 c. red and green M&Ms
20 oz. white chocolate
Red and green sprinkles, for garnish

Directions
-In a large bowl, mix together Corn Chex, Wheat Chex, pretzels, mini marshmallows, and M&Ms.
-Melt white chocolate and pour over mixture. Stir until fully coated.
-Transfer mixture to a parchment-lined baking sheet or dish and top with sprinkles, then refrigerate until firm, 1 hour.
-Break up into bite-size pieces and serve
**There should be a final step of this recipe – “Try not to eat the whole thing in one sitting”**

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I picked this recipe in part because I knew it was one my son could easily help with – he really enjoyed measuring the ingredients and stirring them up

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While he stirred the dry stuff, I melted the white chocolate and then mixed it all together into a gorgeous blob

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Adding the sprinkles was his favorite part – he kept asking “now?” with the sprinkles poised over the pan. He did a great job making it extra festive

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The finished product was enjoyed by all!

This recipe was easy to put together and the end result was delicious – the only thing I changed was I added some Craisins I happened to have on hand, but you could really add just about anything to it – nuts, raisins, Reese’s Pieces instead of M&M’s, or you could change up the candy and sprinkle colors depending on the season/holiday you’re making it for

Well – it’s Thursday – and I seriously doubt this “Reindeer Bait” will make it to the weekend – much less Monday (Christmas) – so I hope the reindeer don’t mind if we leave them carrots and extra cookies instead!

The Day Of Cookies

14 Dec

As someone who loves to bake, I have always enjoyed baking for others, and when the holidays roll around, I like to make a BUNCH of cookies to share with my loved ones – what better way to let family and friends know how much you care than with goodies baked with love?

This year I decided that instead of trying to bake in the evenings and on weekends inbetween activities and such, I would just take a day off from work for baking – a day where my husband was at work and my son was at daycare, so that I could focus on the task at hand – COOKIES!

If you’re planning on doing some Christmas baking – here’s a few tips:
-Pick cookies that all cook at the same temperature
-Stick with the “tried and true” – this is NOT a time to try out new recipes – stick to what you know!
-Prep ahead of time if you can – get the supplies the week before, make the dough(s) the night before, get out all your bakeware before you start, etc

In following my own advice, I chose these 3 recipes (that all baked at 375 – which made my life much easier!)
White Chocolate Craisin Cookies – everyone loves these!
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies – I replaced half of the chocolate chips with Christmas M&M’s for a festive touch
Peanut Butter Cup Cookies – an easy (but delicious!) one I could throw together between batches of the other 2

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I prepped the doughs the night before – two double batches of each (that’s a LOT OF DOUGH!) and I also unwrapped the peanut butter cups the night before, too

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Just a fraction of the delicious results

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All frozen and ready to pull out as needed for gifts, parties, and snacking of course!

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When you realize it’s only Tuesday…but then you remember Mom made you cookies! (as his shirt says, he’s just here for the cookies anyway!)

So – to recap:
-Set aside some time JUST for baking – take a day off like I did, send the kids (and husband!) to the grandparents, do what you need to do to get an empty house so you can focus on baking and get it all done at once with no interruptions!
-Pick recipes that can all bake at the same temperature
-Do as much prep ahead of time as you can – supply shopping, dough making etc
-Don’t use this as an experiment – stick with recipes you know and trust!

When it comes time to actually bake – crank up the Christmas music, slap on an apron – and HAVE FUN! Baking should feel like something you WANT to do – not a chore you HAVE to get done – for me, following the tips I outlined help ensure I have a good time – and that I am baking with LOVE!

Happy Baking!