Friday, December 30, 2011

Secrets of a SPECTACULAR sugar cookie!

This post comes a little late for your holiday baking, but I just had to share my top 2 sugar cookie tips since I have seen many a sugar cookie misfortune this holiday season.

First, let's think about what a sugar cookie is. According to Wikipedia, "A sugar cookie is a cookie made from sugar, flour, butter, eggs, vanilla, and either baking powder or baking soda. Sugar cookies may be formed by hand or rolled and cut into shapes. They are commonly decorated with frosting, sprinkles, or a combination of both. In North America, decorated sugar cookies are particularly popular during holidays such as Christmas and Halloween." May I point out one thing - a sugar cookie is made with BUTTER. Not shortening. This is very important for the end result to be ridiculously decadent and just what you've always wanted.

My standards are high. I would say that 9 out of 10 sugar cookies I see during the holidays do not meet my standards (not a very scientific ratio - I just know it is a lot!). Eating a sugar cookie can be a blissful event if you follow these 2 tips:

#1 - Roll 'em thick! No thin sugar cookies here. The thicker the cookie the more heavenly it will feel in your mouth - seriously. Also, a nice thick layer of frosting compliments a plump cookie.

#2 - Do NOT overcook sugar cookies! This is by far the most important rule to sugar cookie making and the rule I see broken the most. Resist the urge to leave the cookies in longer! You will look at them and think, "Those are not quite done. They need another minute or two." But DON'T DO IT! Take them out. Trust me. See below? The cookie below was left in the oven too long...

The cookie below is perfect! Sugar cookies are not meant to be brown. If they are brown around the edges, you have cooked them too long. Sugar cookies are not meant to be crispy in any way. There is nothing more disappointing to see than a beautifully decorated sugar cookie that is brown and crunchy.

Now everyone has their favorite recipe but I think mine is the best sugar cookie recipe. In fact I've had people say my sugar cookies are the best they've ever had. My sister's boyfriend says I should sell them and make a business out of sugar cookies. Just sayin'. If you are interested in my recipe, leave me a comment. If there is enough interest I will post it here on the blog. I hope these tips help you make amazing sugar cookies because that is how it was meant to be.

And if you ever need an idea for some entertainment at a party or get-together, for children or adults...bake up a batch of sugar cookies, make some frosting, set out some sprinkles and sparkling sugar and watch your guests have a blast decorating cookies. Seriously. Even adults love decorating sugar cookies. I have done this numerous times this holiday season and it has been a hit every time!

Do you think YOU have the best sugar cookie recipe? Let me know, because I would love to put it to the test! Happy baking!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I wasn't blogging, but I was still creating...

Despite my lack of blogging, I have still been creating. Here are some of my creations:

Every girl needs a coordinating holiday hair piece!
A turkey clip from felt and ribbon for my baby girl to wear on Thanksgiving.

A Thanksgiving table

Creating a little holiday magic for my kiddos.
I love watching little kids decorate the Christmas tree!

I made an outdoor Christmas tree by wrapping garland around a tomato cage and adding a strand of white lights (an idea I got from Pinterest. You can follow me on Pinterest HERE.)It looks really nice all lit up at night and was made with items I had on hand. Here it is with a light dusting of snow from a winter storm last week:

I'm lovin' our Christmas mantle this year!
Some fluffy garland decorated with glittery, gold snowflakes, gold stars, and
some chocolate brown, sparkly ornaments.
All this highlights the large nativity picture that depicts the reason for the season.
I think it is beautiful.

And I couldn't forget our annual gingerbread house decorating. I was the architect and my son was the decorator. It is my way of conquering my OCD ways by allowing my son to place the candy wherever he wants, in whatever pattern he wants. It is a really great exercise for me in letting go. My son loves it and I love making memories with him!

So there you have it. If you have any questions about the details of any project, let me know. And I will try not to wait so long to blog about my projects.
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

'Oh Christmas Tree' Fruit and Cheese Tray

So I've been on a bit of a blogging case you haven't noticed :). I was suffering from a mild case of blog burnout. But I hope to be back blogging more regularly - maybe.

I wanted to share this super easy Christmas fruit and cheese tray I put together for my son's preschool Christmas party. I signed up to bring a healthy food item for 12 kids. So that ruled out sugar cookies or cupcakes piled with frosting...I needed something festive looking and fun for the kids. So the fruit and cheese tray in the shape of a Christmas tree was created:

Isn't it cute? And it was so easy to put together! Grapes, sliced apples, pear slices, and cheese cubes with a little fruit dip "tree trunk" and some cheese star "ornaments." The kids went crazy for it - particularly the cheese. Kids love cheese. You can never go wrong with cheese cubes at a kids party. And cheese slices cut into shapes with a cookie cutter? Even better!

Just about any fruit/veggie tray can be jazzed up by creating a shape using the items on a big platter. A heart for Valentine's Day, a flag shape for the 4th of July, a snowman or tree shape for winter/Christmas... the possibilities are endless!

It's the small and simple touches that make things special...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Making Birthdays Special

Who doesn't love celebrating a birthday? Especially with a little kid. I'm finding that kids really don't need big, fancy, over-the-top parties, expensive gifts, or an impressive cake that no one wants to cut into because it's too pretty (As much as the party planner in me wants these elaborate things for my own children.). All that extra fluff is really just for the adults! This year as my little boy turned 4, I have discovered that with just some simple and inexpensive touches a child can have an amazing birthday.

As my son's birthday approached I wanted to give him a memorable birthday but was feeling a little overwhelmed with my life as a mother of 2 children. I contemplated planning a big party with all his new friends from preschool but I just didn't have the energy or the time to pull it off this year. I decided to SIMPLIFY, but still keep things SPECIAL.

I thought about the highlights of my birthdays as a child. I don't consider my family the best at celebrating birthdays, at least not to the extent that I want for my own children, but there are two things that stand out. For some of my earlier birthdays, I got to search for my birthday presents using clues in treasure hunt fashion. As I got older, I got to go out to lunch, at the restaurant of my choice, and do a little birthday shopping with my mom - just the two of us.

So using my past birthday experience, here are some of the special yet inexpensive things that we did for my son's birthday this year:

Using a $1 bag of balloons from the dollar store, Jeremy and I filled Spencer's room with balloons while he was sleeping the night before his birthday. Now this is not for the light sleeping child! You wouldn't think it at first, but balloons are loud! Not just when you accidentally pop one on a toy with a sharp edge, but also just trying to carry multiple balloons at a time. They rub together and are very loud when trying not to wake a sleeping child. But I will tell you - it was worth the effort! Spencer thought it was the coolest thing ever, to wake up on his birthday with a room full of balloons. Add in a special party hat and balloon wand from the dollar store and you have one happy boy - all for $3!

For the 2nd year in a row, I made a treasure hunt for Spencer to find his presents. Here are the clues for Spencer's treasure hunt. He has been watching Blue's Clues recently and was really excited about the blue paw print I free handed with a blue crayon on note cards. 4 clues for birthday number 4. It was such a small and simple touch but really took the treasure hunt over the top!

Look at that excitement at finding a present! If you haven't tried a treasure hunt for birthday presents with your kids I highly recommend it. Such a simple idea that brings such joy!

Another special touch: I ordered this personalized birthday banner using a tip from my favorite money saving blog, Hip 2 Save, for only $7.95! You can see the details of this deal HERE. They run this special occasionally for Hip 2 Save readers and it came at just the right time for me to order in time for Spencer's birthday. It is a nice, heavy-duty, vinyl banner that I personalized with Spencer's name. I can reuse this banner every year, so for $7.95 I felt that was quite the catch! Spencer thought it was fabulous that the banner had his name on it...

The simple, homemade cake. You can see some of Spencer's past cakes HERE, HERE, and HERE. In the past, I have always tried to be an over achiever in the birthday cake department. I am not a cake decorator so that would usually leave me feeling disappointed by my lack of skill. However, I have come to discover that I prefer a homemade cake to a store bought one - they are cheaper and taste better in my opinion. Spencer said he wanted a Toy Story cake this year and I was really intimidated. If you search for Toy Story cakes online you will find some amazing and very detailed cakes. I was definitely not in the mood to slave over a cake this year. As I questioned Spencer more about his cake desires he said he wanted a chocolate cake with Toy Story toys on top...wait...what? Toy story toys on top? Wow! That is super easy! I can do that! The end result: I put some small Toy Story figurines on the top of a homemade chocolate bundt cake and Spencer thought it was the best cake ever. It was pretty darn good cake too. I'll share the recipe soon in case you're interested.

Another tip: invest in a special plate exclusively for birthdays that you can serve the birthday cake on or the birthday boy/girl can use for their special birthday dinner/cake eating. Spencer's birthday cake was served on our special plate. I bought it from The Pampered Chef since I am a consultant and sell their products, but I have seen special plates at places like Hobby Lobby and TJ Maxx that don't cost much. It's such a simple thing but children will think it is so special.

Thanks for taking the time to read my long-winded post. I hope you have found something useful or at least found some inspiration. It really doesn't take a lot of time or money to make someone feel special on their special day!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Happy Halloween....uhh...2 weeks late. I know. Lame.

So I officially stink at blogging lately. Here are my ridiculously late pictures from our Halloween party this year. It was definitely not the large affair it was last year. In fact, it was rather lame. My motivation to dazzle my party guests plummeted as couples continued to bail out on us up until the afternoon of the party. Of the 10 couples I invited only 3 came (and they were all family members). I didn't even dress in costume. I hope that those who did come weren't affected by my lack of enthusiasm and bad attitude. So enough with the complaining - here's the food spread:

What was on the menu?
Creamy Chicken Taquitos with guacamole and salsa for dipping - love these things!
7 layer dip - courtesy of my sister-in-law, Erica
Bacon wrapped lit'l smokies
Brownies - courtesy of my sister-in-law, Shanna
Mini Oreo cheesecakes - courtesy of my sister, Roxanne
Lime Slush
Apples with cream cheese caramel toffee dip (I can't find the link for this recipe)

I promise to do a better job of blogging! With the holidays approaching, I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mums and pumpkins add some autumn cheer

I am behind on my blogging! I have several recipes I still owe you and I need to post pictures from my Halloween party...until then, here are some pictures of our front porch planters with a little autumn flair. Nothing says "fall" more than a pile of pumpkins and some mums!

My sweet potato vine is still going strong! I love that stuff.
It has been growing like crazy and I had to trim it back to make room for anything else.

This planter just makes me smile every time I walk in the front door :).
I kept the dracaena spikes from my spring planting and added a yellow mum and a cabbage plant. And of course I had to nestle in a little pumpkin to add more color...

Has your front yard/porch/planter(s) been given a touch of autumn?
Happy Fall Y'all!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Are you ready for some football? Food that is...

Here is the spread from our Texas Tech vs. A&M football game party.
Tech lost, but the food was definitely a winner!

Table centerpiece:
The Football Subway Art can be found HERE and is available in other colors too.
Dollar Tree hurricanes adding some red candy color to the table

I was so excited to find Texas Tech plates and napkins in the clearance bin at the grocery store for 50 cents a package!

I picked up these cute red and black pom pom toothpicks in the dollar spot at Target.
They make my sausage balls look really festive!

Here's a rundown of the menu:
A big crockpot of chili
chips and queso/salsa
sausage balls
apples picked from the apple orchard with caramel dip
"Elizabeth's 1st prize at the fair" cookie bars (recipe coming soon!)
spinach artichoke dip - courtesy of Joanna
red velvet brownies - courtesy of Roxanne
bread bowl dip - courtesy of my mom
(I will share the recipe for this soon! It is always a winner!)
chocolate chip cookies - courtesy of Shanna
Puppy chow - courtesy of Roxanne
veggie tray - courtesy of the Cluff family
tamales - courtesy of my mother-in-law

As you can tell, we had a TON of food! But it was oh so delicious!
What food do you like to eat for football watchin' / tailgating?