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A quick and easy holiday side dish: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Butternut Squash, Pecans and Cranberries

30 Nov

This was a delicious new roasted vegetable recipe we tried this Thanksgiving. It would also be great for Christmas!

There is an old saying that you never try out a new recipe for company, but generally, that’s when we always do. This new recipe came across my virtual desktop on social media a few weeks ago, and I saved it to try out on Thanksgiving. If you like all of the veggies that are on the ingredients list and you enjoy a desserty side dish, this is a great one to try out.

I had never visited the Julia’s Album site before, it’s another new one for me, but this recipe intrigued me. I was not only drawn to it by its ingredients which were all my favorites (butternut squash, cranberries, and Brussels Sprouts) but also the fact that the recipe seemed quick and easy. I cheated and bought my squash already peeled, cut, and cubed, so I only had to trim the ends off the Brussels and cut them in half. You could roast both sets of veggies in the oven at the same time and after everything is roasted you toss it all together and it’s done.

Because Julia shared that she likes to post easy-to-make weeknight dinner recipes, I think I’ll be visiting her blog often. I hope you’ll head over and check it out too.

I’ve linked to the recipe twice above, rather than listing out all of the ingredients and directions here because she has some good tips and tricks for prepping (like cooking both sets of veggies at the same time) and some substitution ideas as well. You can see it all at once by clicking on the links above.

Additionally, a reminder to use your leftover turkey! We made turkey noodle soup from scratch last night with some, and I plan to make open-faced turkey pot pie this week using this recipe from years ago. I plan to use the ingredients for the filling and skip the crust, and we’ll put it on top of our leftover mashed potatoes with a side of veggies.

Next week I’ll start reposting my “Your Tray or Mine” Christmas Cookie recipes. I will do a few a week for three weeks until they’re all reposted. Before we know it, I’ll be wishing you a Happy New Year!

Enjoy the rest of this long weekend,
Jen

Our Thanksgiving recipes for you all in one place

25 Nov

These were a delicious after school snack on Friday and breakfast on Saturday.

Happy Monday! For many of us, myself included, this is a short week. I am thankful for the short week as it was such a busy weekend.

I’ve been doing a lot of baking these past few days and digging up some older recipes on my blog. Each time I’ve made something, I’ve made a mental note to repost some of these older recipes, so today I’ve decided to post them all in one place.

The Peanut Butter Pumpkin Chocolate Chip muffins shown here were first posted in 2015, and I made them on Friday afternoon. It had been a long time since I was able to make something for the kids after school, but I had some time on Friday between getting home from one job and heading out to the other. Everyone would be home before me, so I left them with a note that said 1) Yes, these are for you. 2) Yes, you can eat them now. 3) Peanut Butter Pumpkin Chocolate Chip. 4) Yes, they are gluten and dairy-free. 5) Two each. That answered all the questions I knew they’d come in asking me if I were there. They made a great after school snack for them and breakfast in the morning on what would be a busy Saturday with people going in all directions.

Last week, our office had a Friendsgiving, and I decided to make a dessert that I like to make every year, crustless Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes. You serve them with a dollop of whipped cream on top and it’s just like having a little taste of pumpkin pie, minus the crust. I have made these gluten and dairy-free in the past, and I will do that again this week for Thanksgiving. We use a Reddi-Whip dairy-free whipped cream on top. I first posted this recipe in 2012.

These have been a family favorite for years. They can be made jumbo-sized as I did here, or slightly smaller.

Yesterday, my daughter hosted a Friendsgiving at our house. It was a perfect-sized group, not too big or too small, and everyone brought something, which made it manageable for her to host. We made a turkey breast using the Instant Pot, which was phenomenal and cooked in about 40 minutes. In addition, I opted to contribute a gluten and dairy-free option so that our other daughter could have dessert too, even though we had so many others coming. It was not her event, but I knew she’d want to partake in the dessert course. My husband loves these Pilgrim Pies and has been asking for them for a few weeks, so that’s why I chose to make them. I used my Pampered Chef medium scoop to make them but I could have used my small scoop to make even more of them if I wanted to. These have been a favorite for years, and last year my oldest even made a batch to bring back to school with her for all her dorm friends at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend.

One of our favorite Thanksgiving traditions involves this next recipe for Pumpkin Cranberry Bread.  It was a recipe given to me by my mother, and I know that she makes it too. I will start baking up batches of this today and bake several over the next few days. Each batch makes two loaves or one loaf plus three mini loaves. Sometimes I will swap in chocolate chips instead of cranberries for some of the loaves since not everyone loves cranberries. On Thanksgiving morning we slice this up, butter it and grill it for breakfast. When the kids were very small we would line them all up in our bed, pillows propped up behind them and breakfast trays in their laps. They’d eat their bread, drink out of their sippy cups, and watch the Macy’s parade. I have a favorite photo of them doing just that, our littlest one propped up in the middle of the two older ones, and I think of it every time I make this bread.  Now, some sleep through the parade, or we record it to watch later, but we always have the bread. This year we will be at our school’s football game as our youngest is in the marching band and they will be performing. No matter what we do on Thanksgiving morning though, there will always be bread.

The final recipe I will share with you today is also a tradition for our family. It comes from my mother inlaw Marylou and we’ve been making it ever since I had it at her house many years ago. Marylou’s Sweet Potato Casserole is my kind of recipe. It’s got butter and sugar and vanilla and brown sugar. It’s got a root vegetable in there too, so maybe it’s good for you? It doesn’t matter, because it’s Thanksgiving and we eat this just once a year. I am excited to bake this on Wednesday night, but even more excited to eat in on Thursday afternoon. You can make this with nuts or without. In the past, I’ve done both versions, but this year since we have a smaller crowd, most of whom do not like nuts, I will just do one version and skip the nuts.

I hope you all have a blessed Thanksgiving and enjoy some time to relax and reflect. The weeks ahead will again be busy, but it’s the time we get to spend together as well as the special family traditions we’ve established over the years and look forward to every year,  that makes it all worth it in the end.

-Jen

What’s for dinner Wednesday? Instant Pot Beef Stew

20 Nov

Sunday was busy. It was also cold, rainy, and we even saw flurries. Beef Stew was a perfect meal for such a day.

I’m on a roll! Two posts in one week.

Today’s post brings back the often requested “What’s for Dinner Wednesday” posts. I am going to share the meal we had on Sunday night, which was the night we were finishing up our weekend of bathroom renovation painting, I worked during the day, and my husband planned the meals while I worked and did the week’s grocery shopping. It was a super-busy day and it was cold.

While I was at work I got a text asking if he could plan Beef Stew for dinner for that night. He wasn’t sure if anyone besides him actually liked it. I said to go for it, and he found a recipe for the Instantpot, which would help us cook while we painted right up through dinnertime.

The recipe was from a site we had never visited before, The Salty Marshmallow. They boast having quick and easy recipes for the everyday cook. That’s us. We are everyday cooks and we needed quick and easy. You can find the recipe here

The Salty Marshmallow said their recipe was “the best ever” Beef Stew recipe, and I think they were right. This was the best, most tender, most flavorful Beef Stew I have had. I am not a huge fan of cooked carrots (unless they’re cooked in honey and butter and raisins and brown sugar, but that’s a whole different recipe) so we also threw in a bag of frozen whole green beans as well. As this meal cooked, our house smelled so delicious. Our mouths were watering by the time it was finished.

This was the most delicious Beef Stew I have ever had.

Because this recipe calls for cornstarch at the end, it was gluten-free and that made it something that all of us could eat. My youngest who not only has food allergies but also doesn’t love meat, ate an entire bowl of stew (minus the actual meat itself). That was huge. The stew was incredibly flavorful and the meat, for those of us who did eat it, was tender and delicious.

This was a meal we’d most definitely make again and I think we were all wishing we’d made it sooner.  Over at The Salty Marshmallow, there are some tips for success when making this stew and I hope you’ll check them out before making the recipe.

Have a great day and enjoy the stew!

Welcome back recipe: Chocolate Banana Oatmeal Blender Muffins

17 Nov

These muffins made me want to do a blog post asap!

It’s me…

I know it’s been a very.long.time since I did a blog post in January. I’ve been super busy. Everyone is busy, I know, but I’ve been busy enough that I didn’t have any time or even any blog-writing mojo enough to do a blog post.

Last year I had taken on a one-year position working for our state’s Department of Education as a Communications Ambassador in addition to my regular freelance education reporter position. The position ran from the start of August 2018 to the end of July 2019 and it reached its busiest time last winter in January around the time I did my last blog post and lasted thru the end of the position. That busy time ran right into my reporter job’s busy time in April/May/June and I was just swamped. It was a wonderful job though, and I loved it, but between the two jobs and my other family responsibilities, I just couldn’t find the time or energy to do any more writing than I was already doing.

That job, however, gave me the extra experiences that I needed to apply for a new job that our school district posted in July 2019 for a Communications Specialist. The first week of August I got that job and I jumped right in, while still writing for the paper on occasion and doing my usual Mom jobs as well. So I’m finally feeling like I’m getting my feet back on solid ground and I am getting that itch to start blogging again. I’ve recently had some of my readers asking me when I thought I might start writing blog posts again. It was time.

This weekend has been super busy because we’ve been redoing our spare bathroom and I had to work at a school department event this afternoon, but when I came home from that I was starving, so I decided to make some muffins that I had been wanting to try out before I jumped back into helping out with continuing to paint the bathroom. I had seen these muffins come across social media and emailed the link to myself. They were gluten-free and didn’t contain any sugar or added oils, but they did contain things that everyone here loves: peanut butter, chocolate, and oatmeal. Most importantly they contained chocolate chips. What better way to jump back into my Whole Bag of Chips blog than with chocolate-chocolate chip recipe?

Today’s recipe was from a site I’ve never visited before, but I know I’ll definitely be going back. The name of the site is Dinner, Dishes, and Desserts and you can visit her site by clicking here. I highly recommend it, as all the recipes she described in her post sounded great to me! The recipe caught my eye not only for the ingredients but also because it’s all done in a blender. I thought that sounded easy. When I checked my kitchen I had all of the needed ingredients. I haven’t made muffins in a long time, so I was excited to try this out.

Here are the ingredients just as she’s listed them on her site. Other than the chocolate chips, you throw it all into a blender and blend it up!

  • 2 large ripe bananas
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup old fashion oats
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • chocolate chips

To make this dairy-free I used Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips and I used Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oats.

 

Her directions are super easy and the recipe went as directed. I got 17 muffins in total and I cooked them for about 15 minutes. I did check them at 13 minutes but they weren’t done yet.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12 cup muffin tin with non-stick spray.
  2. To a blender add banana, eggs, peanut butter, oats, honey, cocoa powder, vanilla, baking powder, and salt. Blend until smooth and well mixed.
  3. Scoop batter into prepared muffin tin, filling about 2/3rd of the way.
  4. Sprinkle the top with chocolate chips.
  5. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
  6. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan to cool.

Everyone voted that this recipe was a keeper. I tried to get a photo of how moist and delicious these were but I don’t think it does them justice. I’m sharing it anyway. The recipe recommended doubling the recipe, which I would plan on next time so that I have extras for the freezer. I didn’t have enough of everything on hand to do it this time.

Moist, healthy, allergy-friendly and delicious! A win-win for us!

Enjoy, and welcome back to the Whole Bag of Chips!

Jen

Fun Friday: chocolate banana pudding pie

8 Feb

This was such a great treat and the single pudding recipe made two pies!

Last weekend was Superbowl Sunday. For the first time in a long time, we were not hosting and my husband was heading out to watch the game. We girls had lots of great foods to eat for the game but hadn’t really given dessert much thought. We’d had a super-busy day so I hadn’t even had a chance to think much about it.

That evening as the game was getting started and before any points had been scored, I sat and googled random things like “Dessert right now” and just “Dessert” to see what would come up. I figured I’d see something that would trigger an idea for me. Sure enough, something came up about a pudding pie, and that’s when I knew what I could do.

I had two ready-made, gluten-free graham cracker pie crusts that I’d bought and not used, I had three bananas that were on their way to the freezer if I didn’t use them soon, and I had all the ingredients to make our favorite homemade chocolate pudding. I polled the girls and we all agreed that this sounded like a great idea. It was early enough that the pie could chill for a bit while we ate and watched the game.

I am so glad that we gave this idea a try because this dessert was delicious!! My daughter Liz sliced the bananas and we split them so that we used 1 and 1/2 banana in each crust. The batch of pudding made exactly enough pudding to fill two pies and that gave us enough dessert for three nights.

I’d definitely make this dessert again. It reminded me of a layered graham cracker and pudding dessert my mom used to make us when we were younger, but with the addition of the bananas. Because it had a lot of time to chill, the dessert was even better the second night. You can definitely add a dollop of whipped cream to the top if you’d like, although none of us did. We liked it just the way it was.

Have a great weekend!

 

 

Meal Inspiration: Where do you find yours?

16 Jan

This salad wasn’t even on our radar until I saw a similar one pictured in a magazine.

Do you ever find you’re stuck in a meal-planning rut? I know that I easily tire of planning “the same old thing” week after week, and we try to mix it up every two-week meal menu. Therefore, I’m always looking for inspiration for our menus. We love cooking, we love eating and we love trying new things all the time.

Recently, I was thumbing through an issue of the Gluten-Free Living Magazine that had come in over the vacation week or sometime in that mad rush of weeks and I came across an advertisement for their newsletter.

It wasn’t the idea of the newsletter that struck me, however, but more so the salad pictured on the page in front of me. We love a good salad at our house and often times we will schedule a grilled chicken Caesar salad or a taco salad as one of our meals. Recently though, we’ve been loving fresh spinach, so when I saw it pictured in the advertisement, I stopped and paid attention.

I quickly ripped this ad out of the magazine and started to plan our next meal.

I am definitely a person who is drawn to food photos and videos, and I get a lot of my inspiration in this way. I took a long look at the salad in the picture, checked out what was in it and then made a note at the top of the page of the ingredients and what else we could add to it to make it even better and more to our family’s liking. When I showed the page to my family four out of five of us thought it looked great, so we planned it for a night the fifth one of us was not going to be home.

The original ingredients were spinach, craisins, pomegranate seeds, crumbled cheese, quinoa, and nuts. To that list, I also added in grilled chicken and crumbled bacon. During our most recent shopping trip we bought it all and on Monday night we laid it all out in a make-your-own salad bar style.

Initially, we forgot to put the quinoa out, but when I pulled out the original magazine photo to compare pictures, I quickly realized it and we added it in after the photos had been taken.

The good thing about this meal besides the flavor and the fact that it’s a healthy choice is that it was fast and had a simple cleanup. The nuts were pre-crumbled, the chicken was Perdue Shortcuts, and the bacon was pre-cooked. Quinoa is easy to cook and I cooked it ahead of time that afternoon so it could chill. The hardest thing was cutting and seeding the pomegranate, and although I know that they come already done for you, the store we were at didn’t have them that way at the time we were there, so we grabbed a whole one and enjoyed figuring that process out. Otherwise, it was quick and easy. There were almost no leftovers and everyone had two bowls. For dressings, we put out a bottle of Panera Fuji Apple that my parents recently introduced us to and which is gluten and dairy free, and a Balsamic Vinaigrette which is also gluten and dairy free. I had the apple, but either would have been good.

This was a completely different salad than what we normally would’ve thought of on our own, and we all raved about it. We’d definitely make it again and it’ll be a staple in our menu cycles going forward. It looked pretty, tasted great and cleaned up well. All in all, a successful meal.

Spinach salad has quickly become a favorite of ours.

 

Fun Friday: Dairy-free cream cheese filling for crepes

11 Jan

This was a great new option for our crepe fillings!

TGIF! It’s Friday and it was our first full week back to school. For me personally, it wasn’t a bad week, but for the kids, it was exhausting to be full-on, back at it again after the break.

For today’s Fun Friday post, I thought I’d share a cream cheese filling that I made for our New Year’s Day brunch here at home. We don’t entertain guests that morning, but we generally do a very special breakfast just for our own little family to celebrate the new year. This year we opted to do crepes. We usually put out a variety of fillings including eggs/ham/cheese, bacon, berries, Nutella, peanut butter, bananas, and sometimes we’ll make a hot compote of apples and raisins. This year we also made a chocolate fondue on New Year’s Eve night while we waited for the ball to drop, so we were strategic when shopping for our dipping items for that treat so we’d have some fruits leftover for the next morning’s fillings.

This was a brand I’d already come to trust with a few other products, so that’s how I chose the cream cheese for my recipes.

When I made our Christmas cookies this year, I had one cookie I was particularly nervous about because it had a cream cheese filling and I had yet to try out a dairy-free option for cream cheese. When I bought my cookie-baking ingredients I had yet to do a “trial run” of these cookies, so I just purchased a cream cheese substitute that came from a brand whose products I already liked, and I crossed my fingers, hoping the filling would come out well, and it did. Everyone raved about these cookies, and I was just thrilled. And, relieved.

The cream cheese filling came out so well in fact, that I thought that I would try making a new filling for our crepes, since Nutella is not dairy-free and therefore, it eliminated one of the filling options for some of us.

I went back to the store and I picked up another package of the Daiya cream cheese spread, and I looked up a recipe online for a cream cheese filling for crepes. I assumed it would be pretty similar to the cookie filling, and it was. I found the recipe here, which included the recipe for the crepes themselves as well, and I used just the filling ingredients as my guide, not including berries, although I did have them ready to go:

For the Filling:
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

    When the time came, we had a lot of filling options for our crepes.

    That morning’s brunch was delicious, and I was so pleased with the filling. It worked out very well, and I’d definitely use it again. I am happy with the Daiya cream cheese substitute. They also have a flavored one that I would consider using in my recipes as well, which replaces a staple for one of our favorite chicken recipes over the years, and it’s a recipe I haven’t made in the past year or so.

    I hope you’ll give this cream cheese filling a try too. If you’re not in need of a cream cheese replacement, the recipe is one that ordinarily uses regular cream cheese, so you don’t need to do anything different.

    Have a wonderful weekend and I hope you too, have a Fun Friday!

    You can add a little whipped cream to the top of your crepes, dairy-free or not, and you’ll have quite the treat!

New year, new two-week menu, new recipes, new kitchen toys

9 Jan

One of many new recipes we’ve tried recently

Happy New Year!

It’s suddenly January.

The holidays have passed, the vacation week off of school is over, and we’re suddenly back at it. School and work are back to their regularly scheduled programming, with the exception of our college kid, who still has a couple more weeks of vacation.

The month of December was like Cookie Central on the blog, as it always is. It was Cookie Central in my kitchen too, and I was so pleased with the results. I had been apprehensive about trying some of our favorite recipes as both gluten and dairy free this year, but I have to say that all went well and the recipes went off without a hitch. I was able to pull them all off with the exception of just one. Next year I’ll be able to do them all, as I’ll have a year to solve this year’s minor issue.

One of two new kitchen toys we have been playing with since the holidays: an air fryer

Now that we’re done with cookies and my jobs are back to their normal pace for a couple of months, I’m looking forward to sharing some new dinner recipes on the blog. Even though I haven’t been sharing them, we’ve been trying them. We also have two new kitchen toys: an air fryer and a new Belgian Waffle maker. The waffle maker was done out of necessity when our old one broke during dinner prep one evening and the air fryer was a gift from my husband to me. I have wanted one since they’ve been all the hype over the past year.

As my New Year’s gift to you, today’s post will contain a Two Weeks of Meals list for you as well as the link to the new recipe we tried, which is pictured above for Creamy Steak Alfredo. We actually made two versions of the recipe at once, in order to accommodate allergies, which we don’t often do. I’ll explain that part later and show the second version then as well.

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS (Because of the holidays, this two weeks of meals is not a full two weeks. We had a couple of meals out, so I started with New Year’s day as our first day.)

Chicken and Waffles: This is a new recipe we made on New Year’s day. We fried the chicken in the air fryer and used the new waffle maker for the waffles. Our plan was to use our old waffle maker until it was broken when it came time for dinner. I will share our air fryer and waffle maker adventures in future posts.

Chourico and Peppers: This is a spicy Portuguese sausage recipe cooked in a tomato sauce with peppers. My husband’s recipe is similar to this recipe.

Zucchini Shrimp Scampi: This is a favorite recipe of ours and you can find it here.

Soup and sandwiches: We had this on a Friday night and had a homemade chicken and rice soup and grilled tuna and cheese sandwiches.

Steak and Chicken Fajitas: We use our cast iron skillet to make these and they’re delicious. We don’t use a specific recipe but they’re similar to this one. We also use a homemade fajita spice mix.

Meatloaf: I love this Weight Watchers recipe and I’ve been craving it. Now that we have had it, my craving has been satisfied for a while.

This was our allergy-friendly version of the new Alfredo pasta recipe also shown above. It was completely gluten and dairy free and she opted for no steak.

Creamy Steak Fettucini: I saw this recipe go by on my social media feed and emailed the link to myself so that we could try it. We actually used almond milk and bow tie pasta for our version above, but we had to make a smaller version that used dairy-free Parmesan cheese, almond milk, and gluten-free spaghetti. This recipe got a thumbs up from all five of us. It was very tasty and we’d most definitely make it again. We used fresh spinach and I did try putting a little bit of Balsamic Glaze on mine as was suggested in the recipe, and it was delicious.

Burritos: This is a quick and easy meal for us for a busy night.

Chicken Marsala: Another favorite meal of ours that can be served over pasta, over rice, or over mashed potatoes.

Chicken, Broccoli, Cauliflower Casserole: I am going to be preparing this meal using a new dairy-free sauce recipe instead of cheese. I’ll keep you posted.

Hot Dogs, Hamburgers: This is a Friday night meal for us and not my favorite, so we’ve planned it for a night that I’ll be out.

Enjoy the rest of your week and be on the lookout for some new recipes I’ll be sharing soon!

Fun Friday: Jelly Thumbprint Cookies for a great after school snack

10 Dec
Once I tried these cookies the first time, I knew the recipe was a keeper!

Once I tried these cookies the first time, I knew the recipe was a keeper!

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JANUARY 2, 2014

I tend to enjoy cookies of the chocolate variety.

I know, you’re completely shocked by this news.

However, last year when I made my cookie trays, I thought the chocolate was a little bit overwhelming to the non-chocolate choices on my trays.

What if someone doesn’t like chocolate?

Doubtful, but what if?

Then they’d only have two of my cookies to choose from: Snickerdoodles and Oatmeal Scotchies. I felt like I needed another option for this year’s trays. I wanted something easy, something without a ton of ingredients or steps.

Enter the Jelly Thumbprint cookie.

I had a Chocolate Thumbprint cookie, but these would be completely different, other than the thumbs.

I went to Allrecipes.com and found this recipe, and modified it to suit my own needs.

I made it a little bit healthier, with the addition of some wheat flour and by using I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.  I didn’t want the peanut butter glaze, so I just left them plain.

I first made them as an after school snack, making half with strawberry jelly and half with grape. The kids loved them so I decided they’d make it onto the trays. This year I’d been invited to participate in a cookie swap, so I made a double batch of these, using half for the swap, some for a Christmas party we were going to, and the rest for my trays.

They were a hit, all around!

This is a cookie that can be made for my family throughout the year, and I intend to make them a permanent addition to my trays in the future as well.

Below is the recipe from Allrecipes.com as it appears on their site, along with my modifications. If you’d like to make them with the peanut butter, you can try that as well!

Jelly Thumbprint Cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup butter, softened (I used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter)
2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used one cup of white, one cup of wheat flour)
1/2 cup grape jelly (I also used strawberry jelly)
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (I skipped the peanut butter)
1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil (When skipping the peanut butter, no use for the oil either)
Directions:
1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C); line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth; add the vanilla and continue to beat. Mix in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Roll dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and arrange on prepared baking sheets. Make a small hole in the center of each ball, using your thumb and finger; fill the holes with grape jam.
3. Bake in the preheated oven until lightly browned, about 14 minutes; allow to cool on baking sheet for 1 minute.
4. Put the peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl, and cook in a microwave oven until soft for 10 – 30 seconds, checking every 10 seconds. Be careful not to overheat the peanut butter; do not let it bubble. Stir the vegetable oil through the heated peanut butter; drizzle over the warm cookies.

Saving My Sanity Holiday Chex Mix

7 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.

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 20, 2013:

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.  ***2014: Another sanity-saving tip I have added in this year is using the plastic bag liners for the crock pot for every batch. The brand I used is an Aldi’s brand, Boulder, and they’ve been amazing. I would not make this again without using the bags.***

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.)  ***2014: Substituted Frosted Cheerios instead of Dulche le Leche.***

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 45-60 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!!