The dawn of the new year always brings new beginnings. I create a giant list of all the things I want to do this year. It's inspiration for the year to come!

save money for a house
send birthday cards to everyone
surprise Alex with presents 
Sunday family breakfasts
game nights with loved ones
morning walks with the dogs        
day trips to local small towns
browse for produce at farmer's markets
explore shops and attractions downtown
go to hole-in-the-wall restaurants
deep breaths
find some great vegan restaurants
meal plan & prep
have more pamper days
play in the park 
take time for the small things
expand cake decorating skills
learn how to knit or crochet 
face masks, manicures, and wine
bake with love
cook at home 
read books in bed 
be on time
make yummy shakes for breakfast
enjoy the scenery 
go to the gym
spend time outside 
find the positive

What do you want to do this year?

Lots of Love,

DIY Christmas Gifts: Cookie Collection!

Aaaaand finally, the week before Christmas calls for sweet treats. It's my favorite gift to give because I enjoy making all the various cookies and I love watching them get devoured. Plus it is so exciting compiling the new recipes and resurrecting the old favorites.

This gift is a spin on the traditional cookie exchange. Instead of bringing one type of cookie to the party, you're bringing ALL the cookies!

When I curate my list of holiday treats, I have four criteria in mind:
1. Is it tasty?
2. Is it beautiful?
3. Is it festive?
4. Is it package-able and shelf stable? 

There are so many recipes out there that allow you to decide what matters most to you in your baking excursion and find recipes that fit your criteria. 

For perfect cookies, I ALWAYS take the time to do a few extra things. Firstly, make sure all of your ingredients are room temperature, including the eggs! If you're having trouble scooping dough or rolling it out, just chill the dough in the refrigerator. Add parchment paper to your tray instead of grease--quicker clean up. When cooking in the oven only cook one tray of cookies at a time. This is time consuming, but it allows the hot air to evenly distribute. Also rotate the tray 180 degrees in the oven to make sure the back cookies don't burn. When you take them out, always take them out of the oven BEFORE they are completely cooked. They will continue to cook as they cool and this way you don't over cook them. Let them rest on the cookie sheet for about five minutes and them transfer to a cooking rack. Follow these tips and your cookies with be perfect every time!

Timeless Gingerbread Characters
There are certain activities that MUST be done come Christmas. Decorating gingerbread people is one of these activities. This dough makes crisp, beautiful characters that keep their shape while cooking. I mix up a few different colors of icing, whip out various sprinkles, and sit down with a mug of cocoa for a cookie decorating party! Don't forget to put on a festive movie! 
T  2 3/4 cups flour
T   3/4 cup brown sugar
T   1/2 tsp salt
T   1 tbsp ginger
T   1 tsp baking soda
T  2 eggs
T  2 tbsp molasses
T  1/2 cup corn syrup
        Yields approx 40 cookies
 Sift together dry ingredients. Combine wet ingredients in large bowl, briefly whisk to break egg. Slowly incorporate dry ingredients into wet. Mix dough until ball forms. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 3o minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break dough into four equal parts and take 1/4 out of the fridge. Leave the rest to chill while you roll out the quarter portion onto a floured surface until it's about 1/4 inch thick. Use cookie cutters as desired and bake for 15 minutes. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes and transfer to cooling rack to cook completely.

For the icing, combine 2 cups of powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, food coloring, and 8-10 teaspoons* of water in a Ziploc bag. Massage the bag until everything is incorporated. Snip off a tiny bit of the corner and pipe directly from the bag. 
*You may need more or less water depending on the consistency you'd like. In general, the thicker it is, the better it is for lines  while the thinner frosting is better for flooding or "filling in".  

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
This recipe is adapted from Genius Kitchen. I don't use all of the flour, only about 2 cups, but add 1-2 cups of semi sweet chocolate chips. Mix all together and scoop using cookie scoop onto parchment lined tray. Moisten fingers and press each cookie down. The key to this recipe is to remove them from the oven before they look cooked. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes and transfer to cooling rack to cook completely. Also, these cookies burn easily so rotate the tray 18o degrees in the oven to the back and front are cooked the same. 

Oatmeal Crème Pies
This Oatmeal Cookie recipe is one that has been based down in my family for generations but I've tweaked it a bit to work for this specific recipe. You're looking for flat, but strong cookies that will hold the filling well. I add a marshmallow creme and rolled them in sprinkles. 
T  1 cup butter
T  1 cup white sugar 
T  2 cups brown sugar
T  6 cups oatmeal
T  3 cups flour
T  1 tsp salt
T  1 tbsp baking soda 
T   2 tsp vanilla
T  4 eggs
T  1 cup milk      
 Yields approx  60  cookies or 30 sandwiches       
Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and remaining wet ingredients. Start with 1/2 milk. You can add the rest later if the dough is too dry. In a separate bowl sift together dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet mixing well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap pressing the wrap onto the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hrs, preferably over night. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using a cookie scoop drop by tablespoon onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake on top rack for 15-18 minutes, spinning rack during cooking process. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for five minutes and transfer to cooling rack. 
For the marshmallow creme, following this recipe from A Pretty Life in the Suburbs. Add this to a piping bag with a star tip and pipe onto cookies. Roll or sprinkle edges with red sugar sprinkles and you're all set. I like to freeze these cookies because they can get quite messy as you package them up. 

Cherry Almond Sugar Cookies
 The basis of the cookie is a classic sugar cookie recipe. The trick is to add almond extract to the batter and fold in chopped maraschino cherries. If you'd like, use your go-to sugar cookie recipe and add the extras or you can use my perfected recipe.
T  1 cup butter
T   1 1/4 cups white sugar
T   2 tbsp pure almond extract
T   1 tsp vanilla extract
T  2 tbsp maraschino cherry syrup 
T  2 egg yolks
T  2 1/2 cups flour
T  1/2 tsp baking powder
T  1/2 tbsp salt
T  1 cup finely chopped maraschino cherries
T  crushed or whole almonds for garnish (optional) 
Yields approx 48 cookies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream together butter and sugar. Add wet ingredients and mix. In a separate bowl sift together dry ingredients. Add chopped cherries to dry ingredients and coat evenly. This helps distribute the cherries evenly throughout the batter. Mix into the wet ingredients. Using a cookie scoop drop by tablespoon onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle with crushed almond or press a whole almond into the cookie. Bake for about 14 minutes. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes and transfer to cooling rack to cook completely. 

These last few aren't technically cookies, but I like to include a large variety of treats to suit every taste. I usually add two truffles of each variety and a few squares of fudge.

Gingersnap Truffles
Pulse 1 bag of store bought gingersnaps in a blender until fine crumbs, set aside 2 tablespoons of crumbs. Using hand mixer whip 1 block of softened cream cheese in a separate bowl. Add 1 cup powdered sugar to cream cheese stirring well. Fold small amounts of cream cheese mixture into cookie crumbs until the mixture clumps together. You want it to be wet enough to stick together but dry enough to roll into balls that hold their shape. Roll the mixture into quarter sized balls. I like to place a toothpick in each truffle to help when it comes time to coat in chocolate. The place balls in freezer for at least one hour. Melt one bag white chocolate chips over double boiler or in microwave, stirring regularly. One at a time dip truffles in chocolate coating evenly and allowing excess to drip off. Then place coated truffles on a cookie sheet, remove toothpicks and sprinkle with reserved crumbs. You can also drizzle any leftover white chocolate or try red or green melting wafers. 

Oreo Truffles
This method is almost identical to the previous truffle. Instead of gingersnaps, use oreos. Pulse 1 package of oreos (creme and all) into fine crumbs. Using hand mixer whip 1 block of softened cream cheese in a separate bowl. Fold in oreo crumbs and  roll into balls. Add toothpicks and freeze for one hour. Melt 1 bag of chocolate chips ( I use white, but you can use whatever) and dip truffles in. You can sprinkle them with leftover cookie crumbs, crushed peppermint candies, or use colored melting wafers to drizzle. 

Classic Fudge (Two Ways) 
White Chocolate Peppermint
This recipe is literally Nestle's basic fudge, but why tamper with things that are so perfect? Check it out on Very Best Baking. I replace the chocolate chips with white chocolate, but you could use milk or dark. Also, add one teaspoon of peppermint extract to the pot along with the vanilla. I like to add green food coloring to color the fudge but this is totally optional. Crush peppermint candies and sprinkle into the fudge as well as on top!

Chocolate Walnut
 Follow the above recipe as normal and add chopped walnuts. My grandmother always sends us a bunch of her timeless walnut fudge around Christmas and it makes the season so much brighter. 

I have family members who don't like chocolate (blasphemy, I know) and one who is allergic to nuts. Therefore I try to tailor each box to suit the person I'm giving it to. Keep in mind your recipients' diet restrictions and preferences and you'll all have a very merry Christmas!

Lots of Love and Merry Christmas!

DIY Christmas Gifts: Pampering Bath Set

It's DIY Christmas week 3! I absolutely love pouring Christmas cheer into everyone's gift. It's such a sentimental and thoughtful present when you gift something you've literally made with your own two hands. Material goods are appreciated for a few weeks, but handmade presents are cherished forever. Also, they help stretch your Christmas Budget as both of the crafts to come can be made in bulk.
                                               Click here to print the bath bomb labels!

This week is a gift that smells so festive and looks so pretty. A BATH SET! This gift contains two parts: a bath salt and bath bomb. However, you can add anything you'd like to complete the present. Try adding some lotion, cozy socks, face masks, or nail polish and wrap it up in a beautiful cellophane basket.

Click here to print these festive bath salt labels!

Peppermint Bath Salt
T 2 cups Epsom salt
T 2 tbsp. baking soda 
T 6 drops peppermint essential oil
T 6 drops red food coloring*

       Mix together 1 cup Epsom salt, 1 tbsp baking soda, and 3 drops peppermint essential oil.  Stir well. In separate bowl, mix together 1 cup Epsom salt, 1 tbsp baking soda, 3 drops peppermint essential oil, and 6 drops red food coloring. Layer 1/4 cup of red salt and 1/4 cup white salt in jar alternating colors. Make sure to flatten salt between layers to get a clearer color delineations. Add 1/4 cup to bath water. *A note about the food coloring: Be careful not to add too much as it will dye skin and tubs. You are going more for a pink colored salt than red because of this. 

      This recipe fills a pint size mason jar with some to spare. I made 6x the original recipe to make 9 jars (i.e. 12 cups salt, 12 tbsp baking soda etc).

Sweet Orange Bath Bombs
For the Bath Bombs I decided to use Sweet Orange Essential oil. However, you could use peppermint again to make a complete set. Other options include evergreen, cinnamon bark, vanilla, or combinations like juniper berry and clove. 

Get this recipe from Vasseur Beauty's Lush Dupe. I added one tablespoon of fine white glitter to the dry ingredients. 

If you have essential oils left over, checkout these cool ideas on One Essential Community

Don't forget to make a few extra for yourself!

 Lots of Love, 

DIY Christmas Gifts: Homemade Jam

Click here to print these tags!

This week we have an edible gift! This is the one you'll be gifting to your grandmother, aunt, and next door neighbor. Of all the gift in the series, this is perhaps the easiest. In fact, you only need two ingredients! Let's get started.

4 lbs frozen fruit (I used Strawberries)
2 cups sugar

For this recipe I used Strawberries, but I've made it with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. You can use whatever fruit you'd like or even add additional flavors like orange or vanilla. Additionally, you can use fresh fruit or frozen, depending on what you have.

I start by dumping everything into a large stockpot. Then starting on low, I let the fruit defrost in the pan with the lid on. Once the fruit is soft, I turn up the heat until it's gently boiling. As this mixture contains sugar, it will burn VERY easily and stick to the bottom of the pot. Therefore, keep the temperature to med-high, never higher. Every few minutes, I stir the jam and gently smoosh the fruit pieces up. I like chunky jam, however, you can use a meat tenderizer or potato masher to get a finer texture. Once the liquid has evaporated enough so the jam is the consistency of cold syrup, you can take it off the burner. Let the mixture cool completely before transferring to jars. Once you've put it into jars, you can go the traditional canning route and seal them in a hot water bath. This way they will be swhelf stable. Otherwise simply seal with an airtight lid. Advise your recipient to refrigerate the jam until consumed.

A cute idea is to bake some fresh bread or purchase gourmet crackers to accompany your jam. This jam can be poured on top of ice cream, added to lemonade for Strawberry Lemonade or eaten with a spoon! It's truly better than anything store bought!

My rule of thumb is 1/2 cup sugar to 1 lb fruit. You can also omit the sugar entirely or add more depending on preference. This makes enough jam for two pint size jars.