Melt in Your Mouth Christmas Cutouts

The holiday season is upon us and it’s just about time to start our Christmas baking.  We had a great time this weekend as we welcomed a few young guests to share in the fun.  I was happy to have found some package labels (last year’s clearance aisle) to wrap up our tasty treats for gift giving.  As one of my favorite cookie recipes, I posted it several years ago… You can find it here.  These tasty morsels truly do “melt in your mouth” and they are relatively simple to make.  Great little gifts for those that we share our lives with… Coworkers, colleagues, the mail carrier, our anyone else that you care to share a heartfelt gift with.  

Wishing you the blessings of the season as you celebrate the holidays with your family and friends.




Toffee and Coffee Brownies



This is one of my family’s favorite brownie recipes.  When my twins were headed back to Purdue after a short fall break, I decided to send along a special “study” treat.  The addition of coffee and chocolate in the recipe are sure to inject a bit of a caffeine boost needed for long study and homework sessions.  

Due to the use of a traditional boxed brownie mix, these chocolatey treats come together quickly.  Adding three eggs to the batter makes for a moist and chewy texture, while the toffee bits contribute to the sweet and crunchy topping for this dessert.  I guarantee these treats won’t last long after you cool and frost them!  They are super rich and delicious! 

By the way, finals week for college students isn’t far off…  Wouldn’t every student love to receive a batch of these gems in a care package? Simply bake the brownies, then cool and wrap.  Next, place a jar of pre-made frosting and a bag of toffee bits into a shipping box along with the brownies.  Your student can frost and sprinkle the toffee mixture over the batch after the package has arrived. Don’t forget to encourage your student to share with friends and floor mates.   Oh, yah… You’ll be one popular parent!

Toffee and Coffee Brownies

1 package brownie mix for 13 X 9″ pan

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 cup brewed coffee

1 stick (1/2 cup) melted butter, slightly cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1 cup milk chocolate chips, optional

For Topping

1 16 ounce container of rich and creamy pre-made milk chocolate frosting

2 cups Heath Toffee Bits

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13″ pan with non-stick baking spray and set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine brownie mix with eggs, coffee, butter, and extract.  Stir in optional chocolate chips.  Continue to stir until thoroughly combined, about 50 strokes. Evenly pour and spread brownie batter into prepared pan.  Bake according to package directions, usually 20 – 28 minutes. 

Allow to cool completely.  Spread a thick layer of pre-made milk chocolate frosting over brownies; sprinkle liberally with Heath Toffee Bits. Serve and store in an air-tight container.

Homemade Concord Grape Juice

Well, it’s that time of year again!  Ready for the picking are clusters of deep purple grapes hanging off of the vines in my back yard.  While the last couple of years have brought bumper crops to our lot, this year’s pickings have been a bit slim. This didn’t stop me from making a few of our family favorites…flavorful grape juice and grape jam.

There’s no greater satisfaction than to grow and process your own produce.  Several years ago I planted two Concord grape pods and they have grown to cover a large open area with a plentiful bounty of fruit.  Fresh air, rain and sunshine nourish the plants throughout the summer months until the gorgeous fruit are ready for picking.  I don’t water, fertilize, trim or fuss.  This is my kind of gardening!  The reward for leaving the plant to do what it naturally does; lots and lots of grape jam and juice that will last throughout the year.


Above is the recipe from the Ball Blue Book published by Alltrista Corporation.

Here is another method that produces similar results…
Homemade Concord Grape Juice

TO EACH STERILIZED QUART JAR
2 cups washed and cleaned concord grapes

1/2 cup sugar

Boiling water

In sterilized jar place 2 cups grapes. 

Add 1/2 cup sugar.  



Fill with boiling water leaving 1/2″ headspace. 

Seal jars at once with 2 piece lids. Process in water-bath canner for 10 minutes. Remove from canner and let sit for 24 hours.  Remove metal lid-bands, and label with date and contents.  Let juice stand 3 to 4 weeks before using. (The longer you let it sit, the greater the concentration.) Strain juice from grapes and use juice. Refrigerate after opening. 

For a great tasting homemade Grape Jam, try this Ball Blue Book recipe…



Piper’s Homemade Biscuits



We were recently invited out for a daylong boat ride during this year’s Air and Water Show in Chicago.  Everyone contributed drinks, appetizers, desserts, and other munchies.  As I prepared for the outing, I realized that our hosts would be bringing along their dog, Piper.  I quickly searched on-line sites for an appropriate recipe to make dog biscuits for our four-legged friend.  I remembered the owners mentioning that their dog liked peanut butter so I looked for recipes that focused on this crunchy treat. Here are a few of the recipes that I found…

https://www.cesarsway.com/dog-care/nutrition/recipes-for-quick-and-healthy-dog-treats#link2

http://www.pauladeen.com/gus-peanut-butter-dog-biscuits

http://www.rachaelray.com/2011/11/make-your-own-dog-biscuits

I decided to make the easiest of the bunch, Gus’ Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits. (I called them Piper’s Peanut Butter Biscuits.)  The recipe includes whole wheat, peanut butter, milk, and an egg.  I laughed as I shared the recipe with the owners and said that these ingredients could make a healthy snack for both dogs and humans!  For added effect, I baked the treats and placed them in a cute container with a bit of ribbon and a cookie cutter.  This way, the owners could make another batch if Piper enjoyed them.  While we didn’t feed her any of the treats on the boat ride, I’m told she found them to be absolutely delicious once she returned home.  

What any easy way to provide your dog with a great snack from your own kitchen…

Sweet Almond Pound Cake

Over the years I’ve baked lots of tasty loaves for friends and co-workers to celebrate the holiday season.  This week is no exception for I’ll be pulling out all of my favorite baking pans and an array of Christmas wrapping paper to start my traditional holiday bake. I usually make an assortment of flavorful loaves… a cinnamon swirl loaf, a poppyseed bread loaf, an applesauce nut loaf, and a sweet zucchini breakfast loaf.  Some of which are made from the carefully shredded and frozen excess garden produce that I tucked away during the late fall months.

This year I have added a simple, delicious recipe to the mix.  This Sweet Almond Pound Cake is moist, dense and full of flavor.  While the directions would have you bake the cake in a bundt pan, you can use the same recipe to make this delicious treat in a basic 9×5″ loaf pan. Sprinkle this baby with a bit of confectioners’ sugar or frost with a drizzle of cream cheese frosting before serving or wrapping.  A sprinkle of red and green candies makes for a festive addition. Give this loaf to those that you would like to recognize during this gift-giving season or place it on the holiday table for family and friends to enjoy.            

…Sending along a wish for the best of health and happiness in the coming year!  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Simply Made Kitchen and Crafts!


Sweet Almond Pound Cake

1 package white cake mix

1 (3.4 oz.) package vanilla instant pudding and pie filling   (the coconut flavor works well too!)

4 large eggs

1 cup water

⅓ cup vegetable oil

1 tbsp. almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour 10″ Bundt pan. Combine cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water, oil and extract in large bowl. Beat for approximately 2 minutes. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 40-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake for 10-15 minutes.  Carefully remove from pan and cool completely. Dust with sifted confectioners’ sugar or frost with your favorite cream cheese frosting.

Honey Nut Snack Mix

By popular demand, I am posting one of my all-time favorite snack mix recipes.  It never fails, whenever I make this mix, I am always asked for the details of the recipe.  During the holidays, I usually pack this lip-smackin’ snack into decorative jars to pass along as a homemade gift from the kitchen.  Light, buttery, and full of that scrumptious honey flavor, this sweet treat is a winner.  Make a big batch and keep a watchful eye as it cools on the kitchen counter.  The mix has a tendency to disappear as the minutes tick by … Irresistible!



Honey Nut Snack Mix

6 cups Chex or Crispix cereal

1 1/4 cups mini pretzels

1 cup nuts (peanuts, lightly chopped pecans, or lightly chopped walnuts)

1/3 cup butter or margarine

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

Coat a 13×9″ pan with cooking spray.  Add cereal, pretzels, and nuts; set aside.

In a large saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, and honey.  Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil and continue to boil for 5 minutes, DO NOT STIR.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Carefully pour the hot syrup over the cereal mixture, stirring until well coated.  

Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour; gently stirring every 15 minutes to distribute the syrup evenly over the mix. Let cool on cookie sheets lined with parchment or wax paper.  Store in an airtight container.

Recipe adapted from “The Family Table” by Brenda Hyde

Homemade Triple Berry Jam



Our family loves the taste of homemade jam.  In fact, store bought jam or jelly products just don’t cut it in our household anymore.  While it might seem a chore to cook and carefully process the product, new tools and techniques have truly made canning your own food quite easy.  Making freezer jam is also a great option for those wanting to assemble their own recipe in far less time.  

While I’d love to tell you that this is a secret family recipe, home food preservation involves a careful balance of ingredients and it’s something that I never fool around with.  I always choose and carefully follow a reputable recipe when I’m canning foods for my family.  The reason…these recipes have been well tested for food safety.  Processing times, ingredient quantity, and acidity levels have all been checked and rechecked to eliminate the possibility of food borne illness in the products we hope to safely store on our shelves.



Our favorite way to enjoy this scrumptious treat would be to have the jam slathered all over a great big slice of Irish Soda Bread. While  I’m fond of butter and jam, others in the family love the peanut butter and jam combination.  You can find the recipes for my Irish Soda Bread/Scones here and here



Getting back to the homemade jam, this delicious recipe is one that was carefully tested by Sure Jell, which is a fruit pectin company that makes a product to be used to thicken jams or jellies. You can find the recipe here.

I’ve always had great success with this low sugar recipe and the large fruit pieces in the jam make for a lovely texture and add to the delicious fresh flavor of the product.