Christmas On A Budget: FOOD!

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Today’s topic is one of my favorites. I think giving (and recieving!) food is one of the best gifts out there! It’s not too expensive, it’s practical, and pretty much everybody loves a sweet treat. I make my friends and family a gift basket of homemade foods every year!

I happen to love to bake, but I can understand the intimidation of baking. However, I fully believe that if you can read, you can bake. Obviously, some recipes are easier than others, but for the most part following a recipe is super easy! Just take your time, and make sure you read each step. If you’re a really newbie baker, I recommend reading through the whole recipe at least twice before starting so it’s a bit familiar. And don’t forget to double check that you have ALL the ingredients! There is nothing more frustrating than getting halfway through a recipe and realizing you’re missing a key ingredient….not that I’ve done that or anything. *Cough*

Below are some of my favorite baking recipes to give as gifts! These are all links to my personal recipes, a lot of which are old blog posts! Therefore, please ignore all the funky footer stuff going on at the end of some of them, and the poor food photography (with lack of watermarks). šŸ˜‰

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1. Banana Bread. I think this tops my list of gift-giving food. It is a staple of my yearly gift basket.

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2. Peanut Butter Buckeyes. A simple, quick, and delicious treat!

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3. Molasses Cookies. A bit time intensive, but they are my all time favorite cookie!

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4. Zucchini Bread. Less sweet than the above banana, this bread is a savory classic.

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5. Pumpkin Spice Cookies. More of a fall treat, but so delicious!

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6. Peanut Butter Blossoms. This is my classic Christmas cookie. My mum made them every year growing up, and it doesn’t feel like the holidays without them!

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7. Lemon Bar Brownies. This recipe has a bit more to it than the others, but is still pretty easy! And absolutely delicious – I get raves about these.

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8. Chocolate Pie. This is one of the richest chocolate mousse pies I’ve ever had, and it’s so simple to make.

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Now that you’ve whipped up some yummy goods, lets talk presentation. Packaging up your lovingly homemade goods into a gift basket just adds a punch of holiday cheer! My biggest money saving tip for this? The dollar store. I go there every year to stock up on my food ‘gift wrap’. As I prefer a rustic Christmas look, I always start with a basket but really, pick any container that suits your fancy. I wrap my breads in plastic wrap, place cookies or other treats in cute boxes (or baggies), then add some ribbon or bows around the basket and call it a day! Cheap, easy, and pretty to boot.

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Crunched for time, or truly doubting your baking ability? No problem! Make Food In A Jar! To me, this is one the best gifting concepts of all time. I love to give soup jars! Here are some of my faves from around the internet, and they make great last-minute gifts too.

(Click the pic to take you straight to the how-to!)


Cul-de-sac Cool shares five different cookie-in-a-jar recipes, with the free printable label tags to go with!

Our Bower shares this yummy looking Multigrain Chicken Soup in a jar.

The Frugal Girls shares a yummy looking Hot Chocolate in a jar! Be sure to check their French Vanilla Hot Chocolate too! (My hubs may be getting this in his stocking!)

Sassy & Sweet shares this Spice Tea in a jar.

Hope you found a new gift to give someone today. Next week for Christmas On A Budget: From Kids, and For Kids!

Apple Crisp + Mini Apple Crisp Pies

Confession: I am not a big pumpkin spice fan. I think it smells amazing, but I really don’t go nuts for EAT ALL THINGS PUMPKIN SPICE like most of the internet does in fall. For me, it’s all about the apple crisp! I love apples, and the combination of soft baked apples with cinnamon sugar is great on it’s own. But mix that with a topping of oats and brown sugar that is a perfect balance of chewy and crisp – now I’m over the moon. This is the first year where I finally feel like I’ve perfected my apple crisp recipe, so of course I had to share so you can make your own!

Ingredients:

6 apples (this year I used Macintosh and Cortland, but it can be made with whatever is on hand)
roughly 1 tbsp lemon juice
roughly 1/2 tsp cinnamon

For the topping:

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 cup oats
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cups butter

*Note: This makes a LOT of topping. The crumble is my favorite part, so this will fully cover your apples with a good layer! If you like less, half the ingredients for the topping section!*

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Preheat your oven to 375F. Then start with slicing your apples and removing the skin. I do this by hand, as I broke my all in one corer, peeler, slicer shenanigans, but if you have one of those, use it! So much quicker.

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Place your apples in a 9″ pie pan and squirt with lemon juice (I don’t measure that, hence the ‘roughly’ in the ingredients). Then sprinkle on some cinnamon.

In a large bowl, combine the topping ingredients. Cut in the butter with two knives. This can be a very tedious step as it takes a bit of time, but you want it to look like a crumble. I switch between kneading the butter in with my hands for a bit, then resuming the cutting together with knives.

Place your crumble on top. I press it all down in the nooks and crannies with my fingers as I love the topping. If you halved it, you should have some apples still showing through.

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Bake for 30 minutes or until your topping is golden brown! Let cool for about 10 minutes, then serve either plain or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Now, that is delicious, but I wanted to try something a little different just for fun, and it turned out great! Introducing…..

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Mini Apple Crisp Pies!

They are the perfect serving size, either plain or with vanilla ice cream, and you can eat it with your hands (well, maybe not with the ice cream…).

These are so simple to make, with a few minor changes to the original recipe.

First, don’t slice your apples, cut them into 1/2 inch cube(ish) shapes. Mix with lemon juice and cinnamon in a bowl.

Then, take a store bought pie crust (or a homemade one if you’re super ambitious – I was not!) and using a 4″ circle cookie cutter, cut out circles of dough.

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Place them in a greased muffin tin, and fill with apples. Top with crumble! A few notes: One (store bought) pie crust makes about seven mini crisp pies. Therefore, I would only use three apples vs. six, and definitely halve the topping ingredients otherwise you will have a ton of apples and crumble left over. Which you could always just make a smaller apple crisp with, so really, it’s up to you!

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Anywho, bake these for about 20 -25 minutes at 375F and you have a perfect little handheld treat!

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And by treat I mean breakfast. Yum.

Iced Pumpkin Spice Cookies

It’s no secret that baking is one of my favorite fall activities. I love to bake goodies for people. We celebrated my best friend’s birthday this past weekend, and she absolutely loves my pumpkin spice cookies. So of course I had to make a fresh batch! These pumpkin spice cookies are one of my absolute favorite cookies to bake. They bake up soft (the only way to go if you ask me), and have a perfect balance of sweet between the cookie and icing.

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These cookies always seem extra special to me as I only make them in the fall. I suppose I could make them any time, but they are just such a perfect fall cookie (especially since pumpkin spice is all the rage!). Whip up a batch with the recipe below!

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups flour (I split mine half white flour, half whole wheat flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar (I cut mine down to 1 1/4 cup – it makes a difference with how sweet the icing is!)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Set aside.
  • In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in egg and vanilla until creamy, then beat in the pumpkin until smooth.
  • Add in dry ingredients, and mix thoroughly together.
  • Drop tablespoonfuls onto lined cookie sheets (foil or parchment paper). Bake for 15 – 20 min (I find 16 minutes perfect!).
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Make sure they cool completely before icing them.

Icing Ingredients:

2 cups confectioner sugar
3 tbsp milk
1 tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl until a semi-thick icing is formed. Add more milk to thin if necessary.
  • Once cookies are completely cooled, just smear some on with a knife. The icing will harden some on the outside after a bit, but it never gets crunchy-hard – it’s one of my favorite icings for that reason. The perfect texture!

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If you’re not an icing fan, these cookies are just as yummy without icing. I love them plain with a cup of tea. If you are making a plain batch, I highly recommend using the full 1 1/2 cups of sugar so they don’t taste too bland or get a bit overpowered by the spices. Enjoy!

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Sometimes Failure Tastes Delicious

For my second new recipe of September, I really wanted to try making traditional French macarons.

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I picked up this book at Marshall’s for $3.00 sometime last year. Quick side tangent – I thought you spelled this kind of cookies macarons, with only one ‘o’? I thought macaroons were specifically the coconut drizzled with chocolate kind. I must look it up. Perhaps that’s why this book was only three bucks. Moving on.

I’ve had this book for over a year and never attempted making them. Why? I knew macarons can be notoriously tricky to get right. Also, the ingredients are pretty expensive compared to other things. The main ‘flour’ in this is ground almonds, or almond flour. Neither of which are cheap. The other main ingredient for these involves making meringue, which is quite finicky. Over or under whipping it changes the whole consistency of the cookies. So I wasn’t wild about spending money on ingredients for cookies that might end up wasted.

But I dove in, opting for chocolate macarons, made the recipe as best I could for a first try and. . .

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It was a disaster haha! The cookies came out cracked on top, and totally hollow on the inside. They were so fragile and delicate they were practically shattering as I took them off the pans. Not exactly what I was going for! However, not wanting to waste them, I tried one with the hubs – and they were so freaking tasty! Very sweet, but actually a nice light consistency! So luckily, even though they were nothing like what a macaron should be, they weren’t a waste.

OmNomNom: Gooey Chocolate & Cream Cheese Cupcakes

One of my goals for September was to bake three new recipes! I love baking, but often feel like I fall into the rut of only baking the same few things. I recently did a giant recipe cleanout, and saved only three baking cookbooks (and of course my personal handwritten one!). At the beginning of the week I had my hubby and our neighbor page through them and mark the recipes they’d like me to try. I love having people to make food for!

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My first recipe pick was from this book. Our neighbor’s birthday was yesterday so I figured it was fitting to make his choice of cupcake!

He selected Gooey Chocolate & Cream Cheese Cupcakes. It’s kind of hard to go wrong with that title.

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They came out great! I am actually not a huge cream cheese fan in baking (something about sweet cheese just rubs me the wrong way), but these were really tasty. The gooey cream cheese topping isn’t too sweet the way some cream cheese frostings can be, and it went really well with the chocolate cupcake. I think the one thing that could have improved them would have been to remove than from the oven five minutes earlier than I did. The recipe called for 20 – 25 minutes, and at 20 minutes I couldn’t tell if they were done (the toothpick maneuver is out for these particular cupcakes as they are supposed to be gooey in the center!), so I stuck them in for five minutes more. I shouldn’t have. They weren’t overdone by any means, but I think they’d have had a better texture without that last five.

The recipe pic is hard to read, so here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it!

Gooey Chocolate & Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Ingredients:

Generous 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
Scant 1/4 cup baking cocoa
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup superfine sugar*
4 tbl sunflower oil (I just used veg oil)
3/4 cup water
2 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2/3 cream cheese (I used neufchatel cheese)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (dark would be good too)

*You can easily make superfine sugar by putting regular sugar in a food processor for 1 – 2 minutes. That’s how I always make mine.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a muffin tin with liners (the recipe says it makes only twelve, by mine made fourteen so prepare for extra).

Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda into a medium bowl. Stir in 3/4 cups of the sugar. Add the oil, water, vinegar, and vanilla, then stir until well combined.

Place the remaining sugar, cream cheese, and egg in large bowl and beat together until well mixed. (Although I usually make things by hand, I definitely recommend using a hand electric mixer for this – beating cream cheese is a pain!) Once well mixed, stir in the chocolate chips.

Spoon the cake batter into paper liners and top each with a spoonful of cream cheese batter (I filled mine very full as these don’t rise a ton). Bake in the preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes (definitely 20!). Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

Enjoy!

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Definitely deliciously decadent. That gooey topping is just so great, especially with the melted chocolate chips in there. So good warm out of the oven!

Lime Mousse Pie with Homemade Blackberry Sauce

I tried out this new recipe (with my own tweaks) for our Fourth of July celebrations, and I am so glad I did! This is a fabulous summer recipe. Firstly, it’s a pie. Hard to go wrong with pie. But the flavor! Sweet and tangy lime mousse, topped with Cool Whip, blackberry sauce, and fresh blackberries is such a great combination that just screams SUMMER!! in my mouth. Yum.

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What you’ll need:

  • A ten inch graham cracker crust (I used a nine inch, and had a huge amount of filling left over, but if you only get a hold of a nine inch, just eat the extra filling. Om. Nom.)

For the mousse:

  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tbl lime zest
  • 2/3 cup fresh lime juice (about 7-8 average sized limes)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 drops green food coloringĀ (optional – I did not add this in)
  • 2 1/2 cups Cool Whip

For the blackberry sauce:

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries (I used a combo of both)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 lime juice (I did not use fresh for this but the bottled kind instead)
  • 2 tsp cornstarch

Normally, I would homemake my graham cracker crust, but since I had a lot of food to prep for the weekend’s festivities, I went the easy way and bought mine. Feel free to make your own.

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To make the mousse:

Start by zesting your limes (two limes gave me more than one tablespoon of zest, but I don’t think only one lime would have been enough) and then juice your limes as well. This is the longest, and most tedious part of the process. I actually don’t mind putting in the effort to squeeze out the juice – it gives it such great flavor compared to bottled!

In a medium bowl, mix together the condensed milk, lime zest, lime juice, and granulated sugar. If you are adding in food coloring, add it in now too. (Quick tangent: I actually added in blue food coloring to mine in an attempt to make it red, white, and blue for the fourth. Yay festive, right? Wrong.Ā  I added in EIGHT drops and still ended up with a very greenish teal pie, haha! So I really don’t think you need the added green food coloring – the lime juice makes it nice and light green all on it’s own.)

Once thoroughly combined, cover and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Next fold in your Cool Whip. Now if you aren’t a Cool Whip fan, feel free to make your own with whipping cream – again, I was just going the easy route here.

Once folded together, gently spoon into the pie crust and chill for at least six hours, though I recommend at least twelve.

To make the blackberry sauce:

*Note – this makes a HUGE amount of this sauce. I still have half a mason jar of it in my fridge! I would say you could easily halve this recipe and have enough for the pie and more.*

In a medium saucepan combine the blackberries, sugar, lime juice, and cornstarch. Cook and stir over medium heat until bubbly. Cook and stir for two minutes more or until it has thickened a bit.

Press through a fine mesh sieve into a mason jar and discard solids. Cover and chill until serving time!

 

When the pie is ready, serve each slice with a dollop of Cool Whip, drizzle on some blackberry sauce, and top with fresh blackberries. Devour.

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Life In Photos #2

*A quick update on my December baking post which would normally be today. Originally for my daughter’s birthday this past weekend I was going to make vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting, but after she had a bite of her Daddy’s carrot cake (see December Baking Week 1) she requested that instead! And the sugar cookies I made for her party were the same recipes as the ones I posted already. . .so the long and short of it is I have no new recipes to share this week, oops! But feel free to take a look back at December Baking Week 1 and snag those yummy recipes. I can’t recommend the carrot cake enough. And there will certainly be more December baking posts. . .this week kicks off the beginning of holiday baking!*

What we’ve been up to lately:

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First Row:
1. My little fashionista.
2. Finally started wrapping Christmas presents!
3. Got my new corner gallery up and I love it.

Second Row:
1. Eight inches of snow makes my miss a happy girl.
2. Mimi gave us some new marble road sets (or ‘marble castles’ as my three year old calls them!).
3. My miss has been very into reading by herself lately. . .I love to listen to her narrate the pictures!

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December Baking: Week 1

The first week of December’s baking was for my husband’s birthday. We didn’t have a huge party, just some friends over to play games. My husband is a big Magic the Gathering enthusiast – he goes every Friday for Friday Night Magic at our local comic shop, competes in some tournaments throughout the year, and is currently studying to become an official judge!

This year he requested a carrot cake – my first time ever making one! I consider myself a good baker; I can make a mean cupcake, and frost it prettily, but I haven’t actually made a layer cake since I was in high school. Which is almost 10 years ago. . .so I was a bit intimidated.

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But overall, I’m really happy with how it turned out! The cakes themselves seemed a little flatter than I was expecting, but once they were frosted it made for quite a decent sized cake. As for the decorating job. . .well, let’s just say it was made with more love than skill! The writing is legible (first time piping lettering!) so that’s a bonus!

Best of all, this cake was DELICIOUS. I got some recipe advice from friends, and had a couple people tell me that the Betty Crocker cake and frosting recipes were excellent. They were right! I’m not even a huge cream cheese frosting fan but this one was fantastic! I highly recommend it.

Click here for the recipe!

I also made a batch of Lemon Bar Brownies. Back when I was doing the farmer’s market, these were a best seller. I sold out of them every week. I think it’s the combo of fresh squeezed lemon juice and fresh lemon zest that knocks these out of the park. It gives them such a great balance of sweet and tang. And their consistency is really good – so dense and moist.

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Click here for the recipe!

And finally, I baked my hubs a birthday surprise – Magic the Gathering cookies!! For those who don’t know much about MTG, these are the symbols of different types of cards in the game. My hubby loves iced sugar cookies so when I was browsing Pinterest ages ago and saw these, I immediately pinned them to make for his birthday! Go check out the original cookie post via Not Your Momma’s Cookie, which most certainly puts my cookies to shame. She has so many awesome cookies ideas; I’m sure I’ll use more in the future.

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The cookies weren’t actually that hard to make, just time consuming. And let me tell you, piping on designs with icing is NOT the same as drawing with a pencil! But they came out decently (other than two bloopers that I very unfortunately forgot to take pictures of before eating) so I will definitely make these again in the future!

Click here for the sugar cookie recipe, and here for the icing recipe!

Our gaming get together was good fun as always. I sat out on the Magic playing and got some drawing done, but definitely joined in for some Acension and Lords of Waterdeep (my current favorite board game).

Phew! Week 1 of baking accomplished. . .just in time to start Week 2 of baking! Stay tuned for Vanilla Cupcakes, Chocolate Cupcakes, Vanilla Buttercream Frosting, and Dinosaur Cookies.

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December Will Be Spent Covered in Flour

I do a lot of baking come December. Baking is one of my absolute favorite things to do (okay, EATING said baked goods ranks pretty high as well), and this month brings many occasions to bake for!

At the end of each week in December I want to do a ‘This Week’s Baked Goods’ post, and share my recipes. However, these will not be all out tutorial posts like my previous baking posts simply because I won’t have the time to take, edit, and put together photos and posts for each of the many baked goods I make in December. But there will be recipes and some photos of course. Here’s an idea of what’s to come:

December Week 1 (The Hubs Birthday):

  • Carrot Cake (The first I’ve ever attempted.)
  • Lemon Bar Brownies
  • Secret Cookie Surprise! (I’m pretty sure my hubs doesn’t read my blog, but just in case I don’t want to spoil the surprise cookies I’m making.)

December Week 2 (My Daughter’s Third Birthday):

  • Chocolate & Vanilla Cupcakes
  • Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
  • Iced Sugar Cookies

December Weeks 3 & 4 (Christmas Baking!!):

  • Chocolate Mousse Pie
  • Peanut Butter Buckeyes
  • Gingerbread Spice Bread
  • More to be announced! (I haven’t quite nailed down what I’m giving as baked treat gifts this year.)

Keep an eye out for yummy things coming your way soon!

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Iced Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Happy Halloween everyone! I’m sure I’ll have some photos of my little miss trick-or-treating tomorrow, but for today, enjoy a yummy cookie recipe instead.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies are yet another fabulous part of fall. Granted, I could bake them anytime I wanted, but they just seem to taste better in their appropriate season! I think this is one of my most highly loved recipes by my friends and family (They did quite well at the farmer’s market last year as well). This year my best friend asked for them for her birthday, and my hubs asked me to bake them for the blood drive at his work. So I’ve had a pumpkin-y household for the past two weeks. It’s okay, I needed a break from all the apple goodies I had been baking anyway.

Ingredients:

Cookies:
2 1/2 cups flour (I use half white flour, half wheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened (I use Country Crock Spread and it works perfectly fine)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree (canned or fresh, whatever you have)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Icing:
2 cups confectioner sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350F.

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She decided she had to bake in her jammies!

First, mix your dry ingredients, stir and set them aside.

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In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugar together.

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Add eggs and vanilla and blend thoroughly.

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Then add in your pumpkin and mix well.

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Pour in the dry ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined.

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And the most important part, the assistant taste test.

I use my dough scoop to drop the dough onto cookie sheets – if you don’t have one just drop tablespoon size balls. Bake for 15 minutes, and let thoroughly cool before icing them.(To make the icing, combine all icing ingredients and stir with a fork.)

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To ice mine, I use a fine icing tip and bag, but a baggie with the tip snipped would work as well. Or, if you don’t mind a messier way, you can just drizzle it on with a spoon! (I say that’s messier because when I’ve done it that way I get it all over my cooling racks and table.) Let them sit out until the icing hardens, then store in an air tight container.

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These are just so delicious – chewy and soft, just the way I like a cookie. Enjoy!

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