Archive | December, 2013

Fun Friday: Saving My Sanity Holiday Chex Mix

20 Dec
This Chex Mix recipe literally saved me this year.

This Chex Mix recipe literally saved me this year. I filled an entire laundry basket with gift bags, plus a Tupperware Cake Taker full of the mix itself.

I think we’d all agree that the holidays are much more enjoyable when you’re not totally and completely stressed out.

Agreed?

Agreed.

That being said, this school year, the holidays and the treat-giving season that goes along with them, had the potential to put me right over the edge. And really, as a working mom of three this time of year, that edge is awfully close most of the time anyway, so I really didn’t have far to be pushed.

Normally, I’m a cookie baker at Christmastime. Between my mom and I, we bake over a dozen different types of cookies, creating cookie trays for our family and friends.

As a mom of three, I have always given all of our kids’ teachers a cookie plate at Christmastime. I also have given one to the secretary, bus driver and bus monitor, teacher aides, principal and I make a tray for the faculty room. I also treat the staff at my husband’s school to a tray of cookies in the teachers’ room, and then I make them for our family as well.

It seemed doable when my oldest was first in school, and even when two were in school. It started to get a little tougher when all three were in school, as well as my husband at his own school, but I continued on.

Then last year came middle school.

SEVEN TEACHERS. A whole new set of office staff. A principal AND an assistant. TWO secretaries.

A lot of people will say, “Oh, in middle school that all ends. No gifts for those teachers anymore.”

I’m not sure where that theory came from, but I will say I used to BE a middle school teacher, and I love cookies, but more than that, I liked being thought of at this time of year just as much as when I was an elementary teacher.

My daughter didn’t want to stop our treat-giving tradition, and I couldn’t find a good reason why she had to. And she didn’t want to leave any of her teachers out. So we didn’t.

This year, my husband has a new job at a larger school.

With 90 staff members.

I knew something had to give. I was not going to be able to do it. There wasn’t any way that I could possibly make enough cookies for all of the teachers and staff in all three schools and my family, and keep my job. Or my sanity. I’d be baking all hours of the day and night for weeks to make that happen.

There had to be another answer.

Simple, affordable ingredients, few dishes to wash. A win-win!

Simple, affordable ingredients, few dishes to wash. A win-win!

Enter The Tailgateista and her Homemade Crock Pot Apple Cinnamon Chex Mix.

That’s right. I said CROCK POT.

That was the answer to my problem, thanks to my Crock Pot partner in crime, Gina, who was also searching for another solution to the gift-giving issue. She’s the one who found this recipe and sent it to me.

We both decided to go with Chex Mix gifts this year, although we each chose a different mix to make, and today, as I type this three days before the last day of school before the vacation, I can honestly say that this saved my sanity.

My gifts are done. Cooked, cooled, bagged, tagged and ready to be handed out on Friday, the day you’ll be reading this.

And I still have my job and my sanity, thanks to this recipe from The Tailgateista.

I doubled her original recipe and made a few modifications to it, to serve my purposes. I will put her recipe and my modifications below.

I doubled the recipe SIX TIMES.

That’s right, six times. 72 cups of cereal, and the equivalent of 48 two-cup gift bags of Chex Mix.

And the best part of all? Not only is it a very cost-effective gift, but it cooks while you accomplish other tasks!!

For me, a journalist who works from home a good part of the week, I could type all day and my gifts were cooking themselves over in the crock pot behind me as I worked. Or, if I was working away from the house all day, I could throw in a batch at night to cook itself while we worked on homework and showers and cleaned up from dinner. Some days, I did both: a batch in the daytime if I was here, and a batch again in the evening or after school.

Phenomenal.

And delicious.

I’ll still be making Christmas Cookies this weekend, all our favorites, and I’ll still share them amongst our family and some close friends, but I won’t be cooking over the mixer and oven,rolling and frosting, baking and cooling late at night for a week in between working and parenting obligations, and still not  having enough cookies to go around.

We’ve found a way to thank our teachers and staff members for their time, talent and hard work without pushing me over the proverbial edge the week before Christmas.

I even had enough gifts to give out extras to people I have always wanted to give cookies to, but didn't ever have enough!

I even had enough gifts to give out extras to people I have always wanted to give cookies to, but didn’t ever have enough!

Below is the Tailgateista’s recipe and my modifications follow below it.

Give it a try, it’s delicious! Maybe this Chex Mix will be the key to saving your sanity too!

Ingredients

6 Cups Chex Corn Cereal
1/4 Stick Butter
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Cup Chopped Dried Apples

***You can also add Pecans, M&M’s, any other candy,dried fruit or nuts!!

Instructions

* In a microwave combine all spices, sugar and butter until it is melted.
* Add the Dry ingredients (cereal, apples) into crock-pot
* Add all melted ingredients into the crock-pot and mix
* Cook in crock-pot on low for 3 hours
* Enjoy!

I used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter instead of real butter, which makes this a bit lower in fat.

I used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter instead of real butter, which makes this a bit lower in fat.

MY MODIFICATIONS

1) I doubled this recipe each time, since my crock pot is large enough to hold a double recipe.

2) I substituted the Dulche le Leche flavored Cheerios for one cup of the Chex, (so two cups of Cheerios for a double recipe and ten cups of Chex.)

3) The butter should read 1/4 cup for a single recipe, in my opinion, not stick. I used 1 stick per double recipe.

4) I opted not to use the apples, because the first time I did a trial run, they burned.

5) I did not stir the Chex Mix in my trial run, which may be the reason why the apples burned. In every subsequent time however, I stirred the Chex Mix every 45 minutes while it cooked for the 3 hrs.

6) For my mix-ins, I used 1/2 bag of mini marshmallows, 1/2 bag of red and green mini M&Ms, and one full bag of white yogurt covered raisins, per double recipe.

7) Each double recipe with my mix-ins filled eight gift bags. For my husband’s school, I filled  a large Tupperware Cake Taker, normally used to carry layer cakes, with an entire double recipe, just for his faculty room. I sent in small plastic drinking cups for them to eat it out of.

Although cost is not always the deciding factor in gift-giving, it’s certainly taken into account. I think most everyone sticks to a budget when shopping for gifts. With each of the six double recipes yielding 8 two-cup bags of mix, and my ingredients costing a total of $40.68 for all six batches (I used coupons for the M&Ms and the cereals), these 48 gifts cost me $.85 per bag to make. I spent just under $2.00 on two packs of 20 gift baggies to put them in. Even still, that cost me less than $1 per gift.

Over 100 people will be enjoying my Sanity Saving Chex Mix this weekend, and I was able to accomplish it relatively stress-free and budget-consciously.

Have a great Christmas everyone!!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Cranberry Apple Chutney

18 Dec
This was delicious and will be on our table for Christmas Dinner next week!

This was delicious and will be on our table for Christmas Dinner next week!

We are food and cooking TV junkies. We watch all kinds of cooking shows at our house from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives to Restaurant Impossible, and more.

The bad thing about that is I’m constantly hungry because we’re always looking at food and it always looks delicious.

The good thing about that is we get some great inspiration from the things we see made on TV.

A few weeks back, Don saw a Cranberry Chutney cooked on television. It looked so good that he decided that he too, wanted to make a Cranberry Chutney the next time we had pork for dinner. He bought all the ingredients, throwing in some apples as well, and we planned the meal for the night of our kids’ Winter Recital for Dance. We’d be gone all day and coming back in time for supper.

Before we left, Don pre-cooked the chutney and we took a sneak peek at it. It looked delicious and smelled delicious! We took a taste. DELICIOUS! When we came home later that evening, all we’d have to do is reheat it. The pork went into the crock pot and off we went.

Sure enough, we came home starving and we couldn’t wait to dig in to that night’s dinner.

The chutney Don had made was amazing along side (or on top of) the pork roast. We had sauteed green beans, baked potatoes and homemade applesauce as well. The meal got all thumbs up all around and we’ve decided to have it again for our Christmas Dinner. I can’t wait!
I am sharing Don’s recipe with you today, inspired by the many TV shows we watch about food. If you’re looking for something new and different to do for your Christmas Dinner, I encourage you to give this recipe a try!

DON’S CRANBERRY APPLE CHUTNEY

I love how the fresh fruit looks in the pan all together. The colors are so wintry and fresh!

I love how the fresh fruit looks in the pan all together. The colors are so wintry and fresh!

INGREDIENTS

One bag of fresh cranberries (12 oz.)

3 medium sized Macintosh apples, diced

1/4 cup raisins

1/3 cup orange juice

1/4 cup honey

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Combine all ingredients in pan.

Cook on top of the stove until cranberries begin to pop and apples have softened.
Orange juice should reduce down.

Your Tray or Mine Recipe of the Day: Brown Eyed Susans, a Family Favorite

16 Dec

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 7, 2011

When I posted my first recipe last week for Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies, I mentioned that it was one of my top two favorite cookies on our trays each year (I’ll let you know what my other favorite is when I post it.) However, the thing about cookie trays is that everyone has their own favorites. Mine tend to be all the ones that are heavily chocolate chip based, but not everyone’s are.

Brown Eyed Susans for Christmas Cookie Trays

I had a near meltdown when I realized we were totally out of any sprinkles for the tops of the cookies. I recovered when I found red and green stars instead.

Today’s recipe is for Brown Eyed Susans, which are my brother’s favorites. I might have one each year, but he *loves* them. They’re good and easy to make. I hope you’ll try them!

BROWN EYED SUSANS

INGREDIENTS

Cream together the following:

1 cup butter

3 TBL. sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt

CHILL FOR TWO HOURS.

Rolled and flattened cookie dough

Here’s what the cookies look like as they are rolled and then as they are flattened.

DIRECTIONS

Roll into about 1 level tablespoon ball and place on greased cookie sheet.

Flatten slightly using your fingers. (This is a good place to have your kids help out.)

Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Frost while warm. (You can make these ahead, freeze cookies and then frost them when thawed.)

I find that if you fill all your baking sheets with the rolled and flattened cookies first, you can use the baking time to make up the frosting so that it’s ready for you to frost them while they’re warm.

Brown Eyed Susans

These look pretty with any sort of decorations on top, but we normally use sprinkes as shown here.

FROSTING INGEDIENTS

1 cup Confectioner’s Sugar

2 TBL Baking Cocoa

2 TBL hot water

1/2 tsp vanilla

Use about 1/2 tsp on top of each cookie (yes the frosting does drip off the cookies, so put wax paper underneath.)
**I found that the 1/2 tsp measure on top of each cookie is important. If you use just any spoon to frost them you run out of frosting because too much goes onto the cookies and then drips off the cookies onto the wax paper and then you have to make another batch of frosting.

Sprinkle colored sprinkles or chocolate sprinkles (or place an almond, or whatever you’d like,) on top. This is also a good “job” for kids to do, decorating the tops of the frosted cookies, that and running their fingers all over the waxed paper where the chocolate has dripped once the cookies are safely removed!

**In Rhode Island, the sprinkles are called Jimmies. My dad is Jimmy and my mom is Pat so we call our colored ones Patsies. Just a random fact for you…

A single recipe makes about 36 cookies.

Your Tray or Mine: Recipe of the Day: Chocolate Buttersweets

13 Dec
Chocolate Buttersweets

These are my other top favorite cookie from our trays!

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 19, 2011

When I first began the Your Tray or Mine series of recipes earlier this month, I began with the Chocolate Thumbprints, which I said were one of my top two favorite cookie recipes from the trays my mom and I do. Today’s cookie, the Chocolate Buttersweets, are my other top favorite cookie on the tray.

This recipe is not complicated, although it does have three distinct steps: the cookie, the filling and the frosting. Because the cookie should be frosted when it’s warm (but not hot) I recommend prepping the filling first, so that it’s ready. Then make your cookies, and after they are filled, make your frosting and frost the filled cookies.

INGREDIENTS

Cookie base for chocolate buttersweets

If you have a wooden spoon with a round handle, you can use it to poke the holes in the tops of the cookies before baking.

Cookies:
1 cup margarine or butter
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour

**Filling:
6 oz cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners sugar
4 TBL flour
2 tsp vanilla

Frosting:
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
4 TBL butter or margarine
4 TBL water
1 cup confectioners sugar

DIRECTIONS:
**Prepare the filling first. The cookies, when done, need to be filled while warm. Have the filling ready to go.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

FOR COOKIES:
1) In large bowl cream together butter, confectioners sugar, salt and vanilla.
2) Gradually add flour to creamed mixture, mix well.
3) Roll dough into 1″ balls, placing them 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
4) Press hole in center of each cookie with finger or the handle end of wooden spoon (if handle is round, not flat.)
5) Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes until edges are lightly brown.
6) Fill while warm
7) Frost

Filled Chocolate Buttersweets

Step two: fill the cookies while warm.

FOR FILLING:
Soften cream cheese. Blend in sugar, flour, vanilla. Cream well. Fill cookies.

FOR FROSTING:
In small saucepan melt chocolate chips, butter, and water over low heat. Stir constantly. Stir in confectioners sugar and mix well. Will be lumpy at first until the sugar melts. Spoon a little frosting onto each cookie.

Your Tray or Mine? Cookie Tray Recipe of the Day: Chocolate Thumbprints

11 Dec

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 1, 2011

I first posted this recipe on my FB page on December 5, 2008!! It’s a cookie recipe my mom and I make every year, and if I had to pick a top favorite, this would be in my top two. I LOVE these cookies. They’re easy to make and easy to just POP into your mouth!! And, they’re chocolate on chocolate. I mean really…how much better can you get than that?

This is a rolled cookie, so your kids can help you if you’d like them to. They can also use their thumbs to make the indentation in the cookies for the filling.

***As of 2013, I’ve added some modifications to the recipe to go with our dietary restrictions. You can either stick to the original recipe or try the healthified version.***

Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
Makes six dozen
Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Thumbprints before baking

Almost ready to go in the oven!

Alex making thumbprint batter

Alex did almost all the measuring and mixing for the thumbprints herself, with very little help from me.

INGREDIENTS FOR COOKIES

1 cup margarine or butter, soft (We now use I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz (2 sq.) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 egg
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (you can sneak in some wheat flour, mixing half wheat and half white)

DIRECTIONS FOR COOKIES

In large bowl, cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
Blend in vanilla, chocolate and egg.
Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup, level off. Gradually add flour to creamed mixture, mix well.
Chill dough 30 minutes for easier handling.

Shape dough into 1″ balls, place 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheets or parchment lined sheets. With thumb, make imprint in center of each cookie.

Bake at 375 degrees 8-10 minutes. Let cool one minute before removing from cookie sheets. Fill with chocolate cream filling.

Thumbprints ready to fill

Thumbprints are ready to be filled!

INGREDIENTS FOR CHOCOLATE CREAM FILLING

6 oz. (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tablespoons corn syrup
1 Tablespoon water
1 Tablespoon margarine or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In small saucepan melt chocoalte chips with corn syup, water and margarine over low heat, stirring constantly. Stir in vanilla.
Spoon 1 tsp into each cookie.

Monday Musings: Giving in preparation for receiving

9 Dec
December, a month when we get so much from others, is a great time to focus more on the gift of giving to others and spreading peace.

December, a month when we get so much from others, is a great time to focus more on the gift of giving to others and spreading peace.

Christmas is coming!

In our house, the countdown is on in a couple of different locations around the house. We’ve got a countdown to Christmas written on the fridge memo board and we have a Christmas House countdown where each day, beginning with December 1, you open a window of the wooden house which has a tiny treat inside. You eat the treat, and wait for the next day when you do it again. At our house, each day has three M&Ms inside: one for each kid. Every year they await the day we decorate our living room and the Christmas House comes out of its box and goes onto the hutch next to our Nativity scene.

This year though, there’s an added twist to our countdown house. Just before the start of the month, a friend of mine, Gina, sent me a link she thought my kids would enjoy. The link, to 100 Days of Real Food, contained 25 business card-sized messages which each fit nicely, one per day, in the windows of our Christmas House, along with our three M&Ms. I read through the messages which gave daily Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs) and I loved the idea of including them in our countdown to Christmas. The RAKs gave ideas about sending a note to someone you haven’t seen in a while, or helping a parent/teacher/friend/sibling, and things of that nature.

What I liked most about this new idea was that it encouraged the kids to think about other people every day over the next month. I think overall we do a good job of raising our kids to think of other people, but this month-long activity would really put the focus on good deeds as the kids anticipate the arrival of Christmas.

I decided to write them a letter explaining to them this new twist that would be appearing in the Christmas House on the first day and every day throughout the month, and leave it for them propped up in front of the house for that first morning. I told them that there was no pressure here, that whichever of the RAKs they could accomplish would be one more nice thing than they might have normally thought to do on any given day and would brighten someone else’s day. I did not take away the treats, as I didn’t feel the need to erase one tradition in order to add in another. I placed an empty vase behind the house, and a post-it note sized note pad next to it. I asked them to fill out a piece of paper each time they accomplished one of the RAKs and throw it into the vase.

This was not to keep score, or to track who is doing RAKs and who isn’t. There will be no comparisons in the end. It was strictly a visual for them: at the end of the month they will be able to “see” what a difference they’ve made in other people’s lives through the season of Advent as they watch the vase go from empty to full.

Now that it’s begun and we’re a week in, I find it interesting to hear them talk about how this or that RAK  is one they already do frequently or one they’ve recently done for someone, or to hear them thinking about ways to accomplish that day’s RAK. It’s just nice to hear them talking about putting other people before themselves. It’s also neat to find other things we’ve done throughout the day and note that they’re also RAKs even though they weren’t necessarily the suggested ones in the window that day. This weekend for example, they made pillowcases for Kids Conquer Cancer at their sewing class, we bought a toy doll for a three year old girl who lives in a local shelter for our church’s giving tree, we bought pajamas for a school pajama drive, and we donated money to a charity for foster teens by attending a local fashion show for which their ticket prices went towards Christmas gifts for the teens. Having regular opportunities to talk about these actions reminds them that they truly do a lot of “good deeds” as the days go by.

Last week, Nelson Mandela passed away. At 95 years old, he was one of the worlds most prominent examples of a peacemaker; someone who dedicated his lifetime to being a truly good, peaceful person. As we sat in church this past Sunday morning, our pastor spoke about Mandela and his calling. He talked about what a leader Mandela was, what a role model he was for living a truly peaceful life. The pastor reminded us that we are all called to something bigger than just our own daily lives and responsibilities; although clearly we’re not all called to do such a huge job as Mandela, each thing we do makes a difference in the world.

Since the Newton CT. shootings at Sandy Hook last year, there are many people who chose last year and are choosing this year, to do 26 RAKs in December to honor the 26 victims of that shooting. I loved that idea as well. What a wonderful way to honor the victims of such a violent tragedy, by working to spread peace to others.

I feel like our 25 days of giving to others is an example of the little things we do in our lives that make a difference in the world, no matter how small. I’d never dare to even compare myself or my family to Nelson Mandela, but I do believe that we make a difference. I know we do. We are helping to spread goodness and peacefulness to others. We’re focusing on it a lot during Advent, as we prepare for Christmas, but it’s something we’ve built our family morals and values on as well, and we focus on it year-round.

I’m enjoying watching our vase fill with RAKs as the days go by, and I’m sure that this new type of countdown will be something we will add to our Advent traditions again next year. I’m certainly thankful for my friend Gina, that she came across this and thought to send it our way.

No matter what you celebrate or how you do it, I hope that your holiday season is peaceful and wonderful!

Your Tray or Mine? Cookie Tray Recipe of the Day: Chocolate Chip Butterballs

6 Dec

These cookies could be made with nuts instead of chocolate chips if you prefer!

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 5, 2011

Today’s recipe is another one of my favorite cookie recipes, one we’ve made for years and years. Way back when I was a Girl Scout, I used to participate in the Girl Scout Bake Off each year and one of the years I earned second place with these cookies! That’s how long my family has been making them.

We call them Chocolate Chip Butterballs, but they have many other names: Snowballs, Mexican Wedding Balls, Hazelnut Balls and probably other names I don’t even know about.

Traditionally they are made with nuts. I don’t like nuts, my family never baked with nuts growing up and I don’t either We all really love Chocolate Chips though, so my mom has always subbed in the chocolate chips for nuts. You can choose either mini chips or the regular sized chips. Personally, I prefer the big ones, but if you don’t, switch them for the minis instead. If you’re into tasting batter, this one is safe to eat, there are no eggs in this recipe. I’m always pretty sure I’d come out with about six more cookies in each batch if I ate less batter!

This recipe can be made fast and easy if you have extra set(s) of hands to help you roll the batter into balls! This is one I often let my kids help with. I don’t usually have them roll the hot ones in the sugar though, even though I use a spoon for that. Their “part” is the cold batter getting rolled into the balls for baking.

Be sure to check back tomorrow to see what the coordinating kids’ activities are for this recipe!

Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Butterball Cookies

INGREDIENTS

2 cups flour **for a healthier version, I have used one cup of wheat flour mixed with one cup of white flour**
1 cup butter or margarine  **for a healthier version I have substituted “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” for regular**
4 TBL granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla

one 12 oz. package chocolate chips

Bowl of confectioner’s sugar

DIRECTIONS

Combine flour, butter, granulated sugar, salt, vanilla in bowl of electric mixer. Mix well.

Add in chocolate chips, mix them into the batter.

Refrigerate dough 30 minutes (or longer.)

Form into 1″ balls, place on cookie sheet. These don’t spread, so you can put a lot on a sheet, no need to spread them out a ton.

Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes.

Cool only slightly, maybe a minute or so, and then roll each one in a bowl of confectioner’s sugar.

Roll a second time in confectioner’s sugar before serving.

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