Tag Archives: Christmas

What’s for Christmas dinner: Make ahead twice baked potatoes

17 Dec
Christmas Dinner: pork chop with homemade applesauce, green beans, twice baked potatoes, butternut squash

Today’s post is all about the potatoes.

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 28, 2011

Yesterday I wrote the first part of my post about our Christmas dinner, which is a great meal for any occasion:  roasted pork chops, homemade applesauce, Twice-Baked Potatoes, sauteed green beans and butternut squash.

At the end of the post I promised that I’d be sharing the make-ahead process that Don uses for the Twice-Baked Potatoes, which also provides you with a ready-made appetizer: potato skins.

To begin, you need baking potatoes. I get mine at Aldi’s. They sell the perfect sized and shaped potatoes in a big bag so that you don’t have to hand pick every single one. I buy two bags of them.

Early in the day on Christmas Eve, they go in the oven to be baked just as you would for any baked potato. Don bakes them at 400 degrees for one hour.

After that, they cool on top of the stove for two hours.

Potato skins

You want to take off the tops, but leave enough potato on them to make a hearty potato skin appetizer. You don’t want just skin.

At that time, Don cuts the top skin off of the potatoes, putting the tops in a serving dish to be used as Potato Skins for the next day and leaving the bottoms on the tray to be used for the Twice Baked Potatoes.

potato shells

You don’t want to scrape right down to the skin, leave enough flesh on the skin for a sturdy shell.

The next step is to scoop all of the potato flesh out of the skins, and into a mixing bowl.

making mashed potatoes for twice baked potoatoes

Next, you make mashed potatoes.

Next, you make the filling. We use butter, milk or half and half, salt, pepper and cheddar cheese, mashing the mixture just as you would for mashed potatoes.

Then, you fill the potato skins back up again. They should be slightly more full than they were before because of the added cheese, milk and butter.

Wrap the entire tray with saran wrap and refrigerate overnight.

On Christmas morning, when it’s time to cook, take your potatoes out. Let them sit on the counter for about 20 minutes to bring the temperature up a bit. Bake them in the oven 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top of each one, and broil for a few minutes until brown and crispy. Eat and Enjoy!

Twice Baked Potatoes

Good enough to eat!

Additionally, to make your potato skins appetizer, you use the tops of the skins from the day before, sprinkling them with any toppings you’d like. We use cheddar cheese and bacon bits. Broil them for a few minutes in the oven before serving. We serve with a side of sour cream.

Family Movie Night and Two Books: The Snowman, Some Snowflakes and a Craft

12 Dec
The Snowman movie based on the book

This movie is quick, 23 minutes long and is based on the book by Raymond Briggs

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 16, 2011

Today is Friday, our wind-down night and often-times we have a Family Movie Night, as I said in last Friday’s post. Yesterday’s recipe was for Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, which I said make me think of snowflakes, even though they are chocolate based cookies. That thought of snowflakes leads me to today’s movie, book and craft for kids.

When I was an elementary teacher, the book, “The Snowman” by Raymond Briggs was one of my favorites to use as a wintertime activity with the kids. A wordless book, it had gorgeous illustrations, depicting a boy’s journey with a snowman. I used to love having the kids make their own version of the words to go along with the pictures.

That book is now a movie, and although I have not seen it, I wish I had it! According to the description on Amazon, it is based on live action flying footage. It sounds fantastic!

This is the same book that our family had for years until just last week.

The book that I used to have is now gone, donated just a couple of weeks ago, by my generous kids who each year have to make a big pile of books and toys for children who don’t have much, just before Christmas.

Clearly they couldn’t read my mind and know that I was going to use that very book in my blog post this week. When I heard it was gone, I almost went after it but my husband assured me they were putting the boxes on a truck as he was dropping them off, it was gone. So, instead, I am including the picture from Amazon. Sigh…I loved that book.

Speaking of books and snowflakes, when my daughter Caroline was in first grade, she checked out this very cool book about William Bently, a man who studied snowflakes. It includes really amazing photos of snowflakes and my kids were thoroughly intrigued by it. It truly shows that every snowflake is unique.

To me, nothing says winter crafts like paper snowflakes. One year I had my kids make snowflakes for all of the windows in the house (this was not an overwhelming task, we don’t have a ton of windows!) Each of their snowflakes was different and unique, just like real snowflakes. I loved the ones they put up on my bedroom windows so much that I never take them down. My side of the bed is the window side and I happen to sleep on my left side so I look out the window all the time when I’m laying there in the mornings just waking up. I love seeing those snowflakes.

Therefore, my craft for the day is just that: simple.paper.snowflakes.

Enjoy!

Paper snowflakes made by the kids

Every snowflake is different and unique, just like the children who make them!

Paper snowflakes made by our girls

I keep my paper snowflakes on my window all year long!

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!

And last but not least, my gift: Smart Mug for my lunch

28 Jan
One mug has my morning coffee and one mug has my soup for lunch!

One mug has my morning coffee and one mug has my soup for lunch!

I got the coolest gift this year for Christmas!

I wanted a mug that I could plug into my car AC adapter in order to reheat my coffee during the day. Oftentimes, I’ll leave the house for work with a mug of hot coffee, get to my destination in just a couple of minutes, and then when I come out an hour or so later, my coffee is now ice cold. Then I drive around all day, wishing I had that hot coffee.

This year, this was one gift I really wanted, a mug that would warm up my coffee. There are lots of them out there, but this one says “Tech Tools” on it and its official name is the Princess International PI-4121 Red Retro Smart Mug. You can get it here on Amazon.com.

I totally love my mug. This weekend I used it after church. Similar to a work day, I often leave the house to go to church, bringing my coffee in the car with me. Ten minutes later we get there and I sadly say goodbye to my coffee because I know that later when I come out, it’s going to be cold while we run our errands during the hour the kids are at CCD.

Not anymore. This Sunday, my coffee was still semi-warm when I got out to my car, but all I had to do was plug in my mug, flip the little switch on the cup and wait for it to hit about 100 degrees. I was golden. I enjoyed every sip of my coffee during our hour.

With every sip, I thought, “This is the coolest thing.”

But actually, it’s not even the coolest thing of all.

My friend Paula, of the blog My Soup For You, enlightened me to the fact that rather than keeping cookies in my purse and in my car for when I’ve missed lunch and am totally starving after being on the road all day, I could plan ahead just a little bit and make a soup that I could drink, such as her Creamy Lentil Soup, which I’ve linked over to just above. (If you remember, I don’t really love traditional lunches, such as sandwiches, so I never pack one. Plus, I’d rather eat cookies anyway.)

Paula said that now that I had this nifty mug, I could then put my soup into my mug, and flip the switch when I’m ready to eat.

Amazing!

And guess what: She was right!

A couple of weeks ago I did not have enough time to go home in between stories for lunch, so I packed our chicken and veggie chowder for the road. I had time to sit in my car and eat it though, so I took a spoon with me when I left the house.

I left one story and turned on my mug to heat up my soup, so that before I had to go into the next story I had time to eat my soup.  It made my day so much more enjoyable because I was not starving. I don’t like to go and buy food for lunch when I’m working unless I absolutely have to, so I was happy to have avoided that. I went from my second story to my third one with a full belly.

And then, I had my cookies for dessert.

This mug has gotten great reviews from others, and I hope that my experience continues to be as great as it already has been so far, because I really love being able to take soup on the road.

End of Year Couponing Update for 2012

3 Jan
Hot off the press!

Hot off the press!

As many of you remember, I accepted a challenge from my college roommate, Karen, last January and tried my hand at couponing. I began at the end of January, right around the 28th of the month, or thereabouts.

My first couponing trip was to CVS and with that one trip, I was hooked on saving money!

This week marks the start of the new year, a whole new year of saving money. To celebrate, I am sharing with you some photos of a local magazine article in which I was one of the couponers featured. This magazine, Prime Time, is the January issue and it’s put out by the same company that puts out the two newspapers I work for, Beacon Communications. I was so excited when they asked if they could feature me for the story. Also featured is my friend Pam, who has been so helpful in teaching me her couponing strategies along the way.

Clip, clip, clip...

Clip, clip, clip…

I thought that with the feature story coming out today, it’d be a great day to share with you some of my couponing savings totals for the 2012 year.

Remember, all of the items I purchased were from places I already shopped, for things I already buy. I did not add any other stops to my already busy schedule and I did not start purchasing things I don’t need, like baby wipes for example, when I don’t have a baby, just to use the coupons.

Ready?

CVS: I saved $1604.36 at CVS this year. At CVS I utilized their own store coupons, stacked with manufacturer’s coupons, along with sales and their Extra Bucks Rewards to make the very most of every penny I spent there. I also made sure to enroll in their Beauty Club and just yesterday, their brand new prescription program, both of which earn you additional Extra Bucks for purchasing things you already were buying.

TARGET: I saved about $90 this year just by using my Target Red Card, which is not a credit card since we do not use credit cards, but rather a debit card. This does not count all of my savings from manufacturer’s coupons or Target store coupons, which I stack in order to make the most of my savings. With the Target Red Card you save an additional 5% off your total purchase after coupons. Caroline recently used our Red Card herself when purchasing an item that was over $200. She had saved up for months and used her Christmas money and a Target gift card for the rest, and saved herself quite a bit of money out of pocket by using the Red Card.

STOP AND SHOP: I only recently started popping into Stop and Shop  due to our new dietary needs, for things that my other grocery stores don’t have. Therefore, I only have one month’s worth of savings on my last receipt there, but I have saved $62 in that one month alone, according my last 2012 receipt.

I have also saved with coupons at Walmart, Staples, AC Moore and Michael’s. I’ve saved online using Groupon, Living Social and other group buying deals, throughout the year. I accumulated over $200 in rebate money through the year, which I used to start off my Christmas shopping early this summer.

My kids and my husband have also picked up some great couponing skills. They all scan the CVS card when we enter the store, as many times as it will let us, and they can spot a good coupon right away. We recently went to CVS to get some Zyrtec. I had a $4 manufacturer’s coupon and when we walked in, a $5 store coupon off that very product came out of the machine. Elizabeth came running down the allergy aisle holding it up. She knew we would now save $9 off a product we used to pay full price for.

Of course, being my competitive self, my goal for the new couponing year is to beat the 2012 totals for the next year in order to save my family even more money!

Time to get clipping!

A new year, a new direction for The Whole Bag of Chips

31 Dec
Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

It’s New Year’s Eve!

It is the very last day of 2012!

You know what that means? It means that it’s New Year’s Resolution time for many. I know that last year I talked a little bit about the fact that because our entire family runs on a school year schedule, I’m kind of programmed to set my own personal goals and resolutions for the “year” in September, rather than January.

And that’s still true, but this new year is going to be a bit different, and you’ll be seeing it with some changes to The Whole Bag of Chips as well.

This blog is designed so that it often follows the twists and turns of our family’s life. As with any family, there are always lots of twists! We like to keep things exciting at our house.

Some of you may know that for years we have had a variety of stomach issues here. I know I’ve mentioned it in some of my posts. It’s one reason we don’t eat out often (besides the financial reason), it’s the reason I do my “sweets” after school rather than at night before bedtime, and it’s the reason why we work so hard to make our meals from scratch, and try to eat as healthy as we can.

That said, we still love our homemade desserts.

A lot.

However, in an interesting twist, it was recently suggested to us that eating a strict low fat/healthy fat/healthy carb diet might  be beneficial in helping us to fight the chronic belly aches here at our house. It was suggested that one of us may have something similar to an allergy to fats.

The first reaction I had was similar to the day I was told that one of my kids was allergic to dust.

She’s doomed.

But, in keeping with my overachiever, Type A personality, my next reaction was to take a deep breath and find out all that I could about cooking a low fat/healthy fat/healthy carb menu for my family.

Immediately.

We needed to see if this suggestion held any water.

And it did.

It was recommended that if we wanted to truly try this out and we were looking for recipes, that The South Beach Diet might be a good one to try for guidelines and new menu ideas. I checked one cookbook out of the library the very next day and read the entire thing cover to cover in about two days’ time, the first weekend of December.

December.

Christmas month.

Cookies, desserts, parties.

Not the easiest time to make such a switch, but I was going to give it 100%.

And so, here it is, December 31, almost a full month into our experiment, and although the chronic stomach pain has not completely disappeared, we have seen an improvement, enough that we want to keep up with this new way of eating. Our family is not on the diet, per se, not following the strict Phase I, II and III plan, but rather using the facts in the beginning of the book about fats and carbs and sugars, along with the recipes throughout the book, to overhaul our menu.

Therefore, in keeping with many people’s top New Year’s Resolutions: losing weight, and staying fit and healthy, The Whole Bag of Chips recipes will be featuring the recipes that we have been using in our meals as of late. We have switched our entire family over to this “diet” so that we are all eating the same thing and all eating as healthy as possible, together.

I tried to keep my healthy versions as close to my regular versions as possible.

I tried to keep my healthy versions as close to my regular versions as possible.

When it came time for Christmas Cookie baking, I made two sets: a regular set of our favorites for our trays and a healthy set of our same favorites, using modified ingredients, for our family. We did not want to give up the things we loved but yet we needed to try to keep to as low fat a diet as possible, even at Christmas.

So today, in preparation for your New Year’s Day breakfast, I will post for you a breakfast recipe that you can use tomorrow morning if you would like to start your 2013 eating healthier too.  The recipe is a modified version of our homemade pancake recipe along with a delicious hot peach compote recipe to go on top. Neither is far off from what we normally would make (in fact this pancake recipe hardly differs from our own), but they both are in keeping with the low fat/healthy fat/healthy carb guidelines. One is a South Beach cookbook recipe and one is from the Farm Girl Gourmet blog that I found online.

Happy 2013 and enjoy!

PANCAKES (from the South Beach Diet Cookbook)

My entire family loved this compote and it was so easy! I'd double the recipe next time.

My entire family loved this compote and it was so easy! I’d double the recipe next time.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups whole wheat or whole grain pastry flour (We have always had whole wheat flour at our house all the time and will often do half wheat, half white flour in our recipes.)

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg

1 egg white (we just did two eggs instead of one egg and one egg white)

2 cups buttermilk (to make buttermilk use 1 T. white vinegar to 1 cup milk, so two and two here)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons canola oil (I used plain nonfat yogurt instead of oil, which is a tip we learned a few months back. We love how fluffy it makes our pancakes and waffles.)

DIRECTIONS

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg and egg white until very foamy. Whisk in the buttermilk, vanilla extract, and oil.

Stir into the flour mixture just until the batter is combined and pourable.

Heat a large, nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat.

Pour 1/3 cup batter into the skillet to form a 4″ pancake. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the bottom is browned.

Turn and cook for 1-2 minutes or until golden brown.

I had everything I needed for this recipe at home already.

I had everything I needed for this recipe at home already.

FRESH PEACH COMPOTE (from the Farm Girl Gourmet blog)

INGREDIENTS

1 pound fresh peaches, skinned, pitted and sliced (or frozen)  *I used a bag of Aldi’s frozen peaches.
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon cinnamon

DIRECTIONS

In a medium saucepan, add the peaches, brown sugar, water and cinnamon, bring to a boil.

Turn heat down to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until mixture is thick and liquid is syrupy.

Family Movie Night & a Recipe: Homemade Hot Chocolate

7 Dec

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 9, 2011

It’s a Friday and for us Friday nights are sometimes Family Movie Nights. It’s the end of the week and it’s often a wind-down night as well. We look forward to it.

In the winter, our Family Movie Night movie is usually “The Polar Express” at least once.

I got this book in 1993, before there even *was* a movie!

We have the hardcover version of the Chris VanAllsburg book, and it’s even autographed. We also have the special bell from the story as well as the cd of the story from a gift set that we received a few years back. You can find the book and the movie here on Amazon.com.

There are several bell crafts you could do to go along with “The Polar Express” if you’d like.

Cups, pipe cleaners, stickers and glitter make for an easy jingle bell craft. If you have a real jingle bell, you can put it inside so that the bell actually rings.

You could:

1) Cut out a bell from construction paper and decorate it with glitter or other materials,

and

2) Turn a styrofoam drinking cup upside down, put a pipe cleaner through the top (gold works well) turning it into a bell that way, decorating it on the outside any way you’d like.

During the winter months, Family Movie Night often includes a special treat: Homemade Hot Chocolate. My kids LOVE this recipe and it came from a cookbook I received as a gift from one of my Stampin’ Up! customers several years back. The cookbook is called “Old Fashioned Holiday Recipes.” It was full of many great recipe ideas, but this one has always been a favorite find and perfect for our Family Movie Nights. It would go especially well with the “Krispie” Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe from yesterday!

Two mugs of hot chocolate

Hot off the stove tonight!

Creamy Hot Chocolate
INGREDIENTS

1 (14 ounce) can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk (NOT Evaporated Milk)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 1/2 cups hot water
Marshmallows, optional

DIRECTIONS

In a large saucepan over medium heat combine Eagle Brand, cocoa, vanilla and salt; mix well.

Slowly stir in water. Heat through, stirring occasionally. Do not boil.

Top with marshmallows (optional.)

Store covered in refrigerator. Makes about 2 quarts.

Hot chocolate can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days. Mix well and reheat before serving.

The Reverse Dinner Party

3 Dec
Just two years ago, we were in the midst of all this, but a great new tradition did come out of it!

Just two years ago, we were in the midst of all this, but a great new tradition did come out of it!

Some of you know that two years ago my husband had surgery on his leg. He had ruptured his achilles tendon and he had a cast on his leg for several months, and was on crutches with a boot for several more. It was a long year for him and for us, and a very humbling experience, but believe it or not, some good did come out of it.

The Reverse Dinner Party is one of those good things.
During the initial few weeks after the surgery we had lots of help from family and friends. We had people raking leaves and bringing meals and staying over, all to help us out. It was an incredible outpouring of generosity.

When things died down a little, we had some friends of ours, the Garabedian family, ask us if they could bring us dinner and hang out for the evening. We welcomed the fun and the food, and we said we’d make dessert. So they cooked at their house, we cleaned up at ours, and made dessert, and they arrived on our doorstep that evening with their two girls and our dinner.

It was their turn to cook dinner this time, and we were treated to turkey and all the fixins!

It was their turn to cook dinner this time, and we were treated to turkey and all the fixins!

With that one gesture, a new tradition was created: The Reverse Dinner Party. Our friends had brought dinner to us at our house but the next month when Don was more mobile, they asked us to come for dinner at their house. It seemed unfair to have them make dinner for us again, so we decided to treat them and we brought dinner to them at their house and this time they provided dessert.

It became a fun treat and a little bit of a break, too. If you had to clean your house for company, at least you “only” had to make dessert along with the cleaning. If you had to cook the main dish, at least you didn’t have to worry about making your house presentable for guests at the same time.

Monkey bread and pumpkin pie for dessert!

Monkey bread and pumpkin pie for dessert!

There was also an element of surprise with some of our Reverse Dinner Parties. We would try not to tell the others ahead of time, what we were going to make. We’ve had all kinds of things and so far there has never been a time where we haven’t liked what the others have made. It’s also been a fun time to try out something new.

This month, we did know that the Garabedians were bringing a turkey diner, so I planned a pumpkin pie for dessert, to go along with it. I also made a new dessert that I had on hand in my pantry: a banana chocolate chip monkey bread. Both desserts and all of the dinner courses got all thumbs up from all nine of us.

This year we agreed to do a Yankee Swap in between dinner and dessert.

This year we agreed to do a Yankee Swap in between dinner and dessert.

We’ve had our dinners in all seasons, indoors and out. We’ve had drinks and desserts over a fire, sometimes we play games, and this time around we incorporated a Yankee Swap, just in time for the holidays. The kids and the adults all had a blast, so I’m sure we’ll do it again next year.

In the end, it’s a night together with friends and it’s the sharing of a meal that really matters. It amazes me to think that we began this tradition two years ago, and I am grateful to our friends who asked simply if they could bring us dinner.

A word about re-runs

19 Oct

Yup, I’m already thinking now about my holiday baking!

Fall is here, and winter is coming. Last year I began posting daily around this time of year, in order to fit in all of my holiday-worthy and seasonal recipes.

I also featured winter crafts and children’s book recommendations to go along with each of the recipes in December.

This year I will be re-running some of those recipe posts as I see fit, in order to let my newer followers in on those yummy treats. Although I do try out new recipes once a week or so, when it comes to my holiday baking, I am steeped in tradition and I do not veer off that path very often. Therefore, I won’t have 20 new Christmas Cookie Tray recipes for you again this year, since I shared most all of my tray treats with you last year. So if you are a regular, long-time reader, you may see a few things that ring a bell as looking awfully familiar. I hope those re-runs will remind you that you always wanted to try that recipe last year and never got to, or that you loved it so much you can’t wait to make it again.

In the meantime, if you’d like to look back at my holiday treats from last year right now, you can type in Pumpkin Palooza (Thanksgiving) or Your Tray or Mine? (Christmas), or even click on November and December 2011 to take a look!

As always, if you have a recipe you’d like me to try, feel free to email it to me and I’ll add it to my list, which is super-long, of things I want to try one day! Thank you in advance for sharing your recipes with me and for being such a great, supportive blog audience!

Jen

Donut Wars: New Year’s Eve 2011

3 Jan
Babyckaes Donut Maker

My new toy!

This year for Christmas I received a Babycakes Donut Maker from my mother-in-law in Virginia. I don’t know how she could’ve known that I had looked at this longingly in EVERY store I went to, but it’s not something I’d splurge on myself. I thought it would be a fun gift; fun for playdates and birthday parties, things like that.

My sister-in-law, Jessica in Virginia received one from her as well, and we spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s in Virginia with them, staying at my sister-in-law’s house. Between us we have five girls ranging in age from 6 to 12, so we look for fun activities, crafts and special things to do when we’re together, but especially on New Year’s Eve when we have a long night ahead of us.

Since we both got the same gift and my sister-in-law has a large kitchen space, we decided to create a Donut Wars event for the kids on New Year’s Eve, to christen our new Babycakes Donut Makers and to make yet another unforgettable New Year’s Eve for our kids, three of whom made it to midnight this year.

The Festivus Christmas Team, I was their team captain.

The Pinkalicious Team, Grandma was their team captain.

To start our Donut Wars, we came up with two teams based on the cake mixes we were going to use for our donuts. You can use the recipes included in the box or cake mixes. For our first time we opted for cake mixes, although I do plan to eventually try out some of the recipes that come with the maker. My sister-in-law had a Funfetti Christmas cake mix and a Strawberry Cake mix, so we named our two teams the Festivus Christmas Team and the Pinkalicious Team. We paired the kids up into two teams of two and each team had one adult captain. (Jessica’s youngest wanted to be a judge, the two daddies were judges and Jess was a floater.) To make it even more fun, the kids dressed up in funky clothes and accessories.

Common Ingredients for all to use

The two teams were each given their cake mix and a vanilla frosting, all the mixing bowls and measuring cups they needed, a Babycakes Donut Maker, and a counter full of Common Ingredients that they could use for their decorating no matter what team they were on. We set one team up on the island and one team up at the kitchen table with the Common Ingredients between them on the end of the island.

Once we got the teams set up with their captains, judges waiting in the wings, the teams got started.

Here’s what followed:

Some egg cracking,

Some egg separating,

Some oil measuring,

They took turns mixing,

had frequent visits from our primary judge, Abbey,

And the Festivus Team had technical difficulties with some faulty ziploc bags.

but overall, things were going well!

The kit came with its own cooling rack and fork for taking the donuts out of the machine, both of which were very important.

Aunty Jessie helped both teams.

While *some* of us took the opportunity to get a nap in before the big ball dropping later on.

Soon the donuts were done for the Festivus Team

and for the Pinkalicious Team, who actually finished first.

and it was time....

...to judge...

...the donuts!

The judges were each given an index card with the team’s name on top. Each team had picked three donuts or sets of donuts to showcase for the judges. The judges had to go to each team and critique the donuts on taste, creativity, presentation and then give and overall score (just like that show we watch, Four Weddings, on TLC!) Jess and I had prizes for both teams as well as for both captains, so no matter what it would all work out. (We love our respective Dollar Tree dollar stores for things like that!)

Christmas Wreath and Snowman face from the Festivus Team- creative!

Presentation: the 3D Festivus Donut on a spackled frosting dish

Hand-chopped candy canes top the Festivus Teams third set of donuts for judging.

Pinkalicious's VERY pink donuts with marshmallow centers for judging.

Hand-shaved chocolate, shaved by team captain Grandma, for the Pinkalicious team's presentation table.

Beautiful pink and white candy cane donuts from the Pinkalicious Team for the judges to eat.

Overall, a grand time was had by all! We found the Babycakes Donut Maker to be easy to use, to include all of the items we needed, and we loved that we had the option to use cake mixes instead of making the donuts from scratch. With that many kids, it was much easier using the mix than working from scratch, especially for the first time.

A few things to note:
1) The donuts are tiny (so you can eat a whole bunch!)

2) The donut maker gets HOT and the directions say so several times in several different places, but even still we had a burn victim no less. Caroline accidentally leaned against one of them to get a common ingredient and burned her stomach. Hello Neosporin. She still finished out the entire competition, with an ice pack on her stomach.

3) Overall it took about an hour to go from start to finish and that’s with captains and floaters. If I were doing this for a playdate I’d make the donuts ahead and let them decorate them. This would help with time, space and less of a chance of anyone getting burned.

4) One cake mix makes about 42 donuts from our count (so we had almost 100 donuts by the end!)

5) The donut maker has a very short cord, perfect for my tiny kitchen corner that has an outlet right there, but depending on your space you might need to plug into an extension cord first.

I’m glad we have the Babycakes Donut Maker and I can’t wait to use it again (neither can the kids) and to try out some of the “from scratch” recipes. There’s also a zillion different cake mix flavors out there, so no matter what our hearts desire, we can have donuts in any flavor we want as time goes on. Alex was already planning on a baking party for her March birthday, which she’s been planning since October, so this just added to her plans. I see aprons and chef’s hats as possible craft ideas!

I definitely recommend this product if you’re considering it, and so do our Donut Wars Team Participants!

All of the Donut Wars contestants and their judge, Abbey