Posted in Crafts, Gifts, holiday, holidays, Sewing

Hand Made Friendship Hearts

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Years ago, as I was rummaging through the craft section of a local area garage sale, I stumbled upon a box of beads, sequins, golden threads, and patterns. I scooped it up and asked the owner how much was needed for the treasure. To my delight, she said $1.00 would fit the bill. I gathered up a few more crafting trinkets (some sewing and embroidery supplies) along with the box of sequined treasures, paid the kind lady, and I was on my way.
Shortly after arriving home, I took out a heart shaped cookie cutter and traced several small hearts on a light gray felt square. I carefully cut the heart shapes out and stitched on enough sequins and beads to cover the entire surface of one heart shape. On another heart shaped felt piece, I secured a pin back so that eventually, my project would become a pin. I then used a tiny blanket stitch (gray thread or monofilament) to sew the two felt heart shapes, wrong sides together, leaving a small opening to stuff in a bit of batting. After closing up the opening, I would plump up the heart shape by using my fingers to evenly distribute the batting tucked inside. Voila, the pin is complete!
I then used printable business cards to create a message, printed a sheet and punched two holes in each card to secure the pin back. I used small cellophane bags to envelope the pin/card and tied a bow for a sweet finish.
I have given these pins out at weddings, for Valentine’s Day, and for Mother’s Day. They are quick and simple and require very few supplies. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Posted in Baked goods, Baking, Bread, Cake, Food, Gifts, holidays

Cinnamon Swirl Loaf

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Over the years, it’s been a holiday tradition in my family to prepare lots of holiday loaves to be given away throughout the season. This year we chose the Cinnamon Swirl Loaf to pass on to others. It’s the perfect loaf for the busy holiday season. Most years, I spend hours in the kitchen rolling out a cinnamon yeast loaf that is delicious but a bit time consuming. This year, to save time in the kitchen, I made a semi-homemade loaf that uses a cake mix for the base. If you love fresh baked cinnamon rolls, then this loaf is for you! As a bonus, the recipe makes two loaves at once. This really speeds up the baking process helping to make more loaves to give away for the holidays!

Wishing you the very best this holiday season. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Cinnamon Swirl Loaf

1-15 oz box yellow cake mix
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two loaf pans with cooking spray. In a large mixing bowl, combine first five ingredients. Pour half of the batter into both loaf pans. Thoroughly combine the cinnamon and sugar, sprinkle half of the dry mixture over the batter in the loaf pan. Pour the remaining batter into each pan, carefully spreading evenly into the corners. Finish by sprinkling the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture over the batter. With a butter knife, swirl the cinnamon mixture throughout the batter making large swirls with the knife. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting.

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Posted in Baked goods, Baking, cookies, Desserts, Food, holiday, holidays, Kids in the Kitchen, lunch box

Holiday Cutouts

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As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, I’m all about sending goodies to my college kids living on campus. Receiving a thoughtful care package from home is always a welcome surprise for students. Last week, while I was visiting campus, I dropped off decorative trays of Holiday Cutouts to each of my children. I’m told they were a big hit as M shared her tray with her Resident Assistant, roommate and a few of her friends from home. K and P shared their cookies as well. M confessed that she couldn’t imagine eating too many of the cookies without putting on a few pounds so, “out of site, out of mind”, was her motto when passing off the tasty treats to friends and floor mates.
This cookie is quick and easy to assemble as the recipe doesn’t call for the traditional wait time for refrigeration when making the stiff rolled dough. Use your favorite cookie cutters to represent holidays, birthdays, or other special occasions. After a quick cool down, top with icing and colorful sprinkles. Pack in airtight containers or transfer to a platter for a friendly holiday tray. (I found a few Halloween buckets at a local discount store so I packed a few cookies in with a bit of tissue paper.)
Kids, no matter what their age, always enjoy a flavorful treat for the holidays.

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Holiday Cutouts

1 cup butter, softened ( 2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract; mix until well blended. In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Carefully, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and combine well. Form the dough in to a smooth ball. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4″ thick. Cut out with cookie cutters and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 6-8 minutes or until very lightly browned. Remove from cookie sheets and cool on wire racks. Decorate as desired when cool.

Posted in Crafts, Gifts, holiday, holidays

Chunky Infinity Scarf

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Last week I posted a picture and link for a beginner infinity scarf that I found on the web. As I had mentioned in the post, I am at the very bottom of the ability scale when it comes to my yarn, needlework and craftsmanship abilities. I stick with basic techniques and have to rely heavily on video tutorials (played over and over again) to grasp basic construction concepts. I have been so pleased with my new found skill for crafting the beginner infinity scarf that I have taken to making several different scarves with yarns of various weight and color for my family and friends. Honestly, these scarves are so quick and easy to make, it literally takes about 1 1/2 hours to construct this trendy accessory.
This week, I wanted to post another of my creations crafted with a different type of yarn but crocheted with the very same stitch as the blue patterned scarf that I posted last week. I wanted you to see what a difference yarn choice can make in the look and feel of the garment or accessory. Again, you can find the video here. This is a great little scarf as we move into the cold weather months in the Midwest. Don’t forget that this would be a fantastic Christmas present for teens, moms, teachers, and co-workers. Look for yarn colors to match college, high school or professional sports teams. Or, look for chunky yarns to match the trendy look of current retail scarves found in all the stores.
Here is the yarn that I used for this project. I also used an 11 mm crochet hook.

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… Hand made, totally inexpensive and a thoughtful gift… Happy crocheting!

Posted in Beef, Dinner, Food, holidays, Main Dish, Uncategorized

Moist and Tender Prime Rib

As tradition would have it, one of our favorite holiday meals includes prime rib. Tonight, my family and I will be enjoying a night out on the town in downtown Chicago. We are going to one of our favorite restaurants, Lawry’s Prime Rib. While I will be pampered tonight, I usually make my own version of this delicious roast. I have reblogged my recipe for those that might be preparing a Holiday feast this week. Happy holidays to all.

Simply Made Kitchen and Crafts

Prime Rib

Prime rib is one of my favorite dishes to prepare for special occasions. Recently, I hosted my extended family for Thanksgiving. Family members traveled in from neighboring states to celebrate the holiday. After an early breakfast, I asked my neice to join me in the kitchen to prepare the prime rib. She is such an adorable kitchen helper…always willing to take on any task and eager to learn. It warms my heart as I watch her run to the kitchen drawer to find my handmade aprons. There she carefully ties the apron strings around her slim little waist. When we first started cooking together, I would hike up the apron and fold a crease in it to shorten the length to match her 1st grade height. I’d scoot a stool over to the countertop so that she could follow along as we cooked together. These days, she’s older and wiser…she…

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Posted in Crafts, Gifts, holidays, Homemade Mixes

Christmas Treasure Hunt in a Jar

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This is a great kid-friendly Christmas gift for those of you looking for a few last minute ideas. The Treasure Hunt in a Jar can be made with a theme in mind… Make them for holidays, sports fanatics, those that like to craft, sew or bake. Find trinkets at the dollar store or your local craft store to match your theme. I am always amazed at how interested guests are in finding all of the hidden trinkets in the jar. Most times, there are a few people patiently waiting for their turn at finding all the treasures.

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This is a also great little craft project that can easily be made for a fundraising activity. Your group can make several of them to sell at local craft fairs or community fundraisers. Weeks before the event, ask everyone to gather up items to be recycled or repurposed for the project. Collect used jars of all shapes and sizes, lots of small “treasures” to place in the jars, and a big bag of bird seed. This is an ideal project for both the young and the old. Don’t be surprised if the jars sell out quickly. Your group will be quite proud of their accomplishment!

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A Treasure Hunt in a Jar

Recycled jar with tight fitting lid
Bird seed
Found objects to place in the jar like a…
penny
nickel
safety pin
bobby pin
rubber band
macaroni
marble
paper clip
bead
tack
toothpick
red button
screw
bread tie

Make sure jar is thoroughly washed, clean and dry. Pour bird seed into the jar, filling only half-way. Place “treasures” into the jar. Now, continue to fill the jar with bird seed; about 3/4 full, leaving enough space for items to move while searching for treasures. Cover jar, tightly securing the lid. Print up a “treasure” item list and the following saying on colorful card stock or scrap book paper and attach to the jar with a ribbon.

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Attach this little note along with a list of all the treasures to be found:
Here’s a little treasure jar, with lots of hidden things.
See how many you can find, and how much fun it brings!

Posted in appetizers/snacks, Baked goods, Baking, Chocolate, Desserts, Food, Gifts, holidays, lunch box

Mini Brownie Bites

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It’s that time of year…holiday parties, friendly gift giving, festive decorations and enjoying time with family. One of our favorite ways to spend time together seems to revolve around preparing and sharing cherished family recipes.
We have a few favorite cookie and quick bread recipes that we always bake when the holidays roll around…some are time consuming recipes while others can be whipped up in a jiffy.
This recipe for Mini Brownie Bites is a quickie. These flavorful gems are a mouthful of rich, chocolatey goodness and they only take minutes to prepare. Be warned that the recipe yields only a dozen or so bites. You can bake them along with your favorite cookie selection to be added to the holiday dessert tray. I often pack them in colorful tins to give as teacher gifts. They travel well and seem to get more moist and delicious a day or two after baking. Be sure to store them in an air-tight container until just before serving.

Mini Brownie Bites

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, divided
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional

In a microwave, melt 1/4 cup of chocolate chips and butter; stir until smooth.
Cool slightly. In a small bowl, beat egg and sugar. Stir in vanilla and chocolate mixture. Gradually add flour; fold in remaining chocolate chips and optional walnuts.
Use a small ice cream scoop to fill mini paper or silicone-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes (depending on how dry or moist you prefer the brownie center) or until tops begin to crack. Cool completely before removing from pan to a wire rack.

Posted in appetizers/snacks, Baked goods, Baking, Bread, Brunch, Food, holidays, lunch box

Cranberry Orange and Almond Biscotti

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Boy, is it cold outside. As I bundle up my kids for their 5:30 am swim practice, I think about how dedicated they are to their sport. I know it’s my job to supply nutritious and comforting meals to provide fuel for the day and I do my best to get the job done. However, there is one indulgence that M requests for her morning snack at school… Cranberry Orange and Almond Biscotti with a cup of tea is her favorite cold weather snack.

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A couple of weeks ago, there was a decent coupon for Celestial Seasonings Tea. I had 5 coupons so I bought five of their holiday selection flavors for roughly 79 cents a piece. M was thrilled!

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During M’s Saturday morning swim practice, I whipped up a batch of her favorite biscotti and brewed her a cup of tea. When she arrived home, she was so happy!

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Recently, I purchased M a wonderful thermos to take to school with her. So every morning, I brew her a cup of tea, fill up her thermos, and pack a biscotti cookie in her lunch box so that she can enjoy her snack during an early morning break. It’s a great way to warm her tummy during the cold (freezing cold) Midwest winter days.

Cranberry Orange and Almond Biscotti

2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, stir together sugar, oil, orange peel, vanilla extract, almond extract, and eggs. Stir in remaining ingredients.
Place dough on lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth. On two cookie sheets, shape half of dough at a time into two 10×3-inch rectangles. Press a handful of almonds into the top of each dough band.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on cookie sheets for about 15 minutes. Carefully cut rectangle crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Turn slices cut sides down on cookie sheet.
Bake about 15 minutes longer, turning once half way through, until crisp and light brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Posted in appetizers/snacks, Baked goods, Baking, Desserts, Food, holidays, lunch box

Favorite Peanut Butter Cookies

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I have a son that is super picky when it comes to dessert foods. He’s quite old-fashioned and loves only the traditional recipes that we’ve all known for years. Basic chocolate chip cookies (no nuts), plain ole’ brownies (no fancy powder sugar topping) and my famous peanut butter cookies. This is probably P’s most requested cookie recipe.
What I like about this basic recipe is that it is flour-less. Mixing a few simple ingredients together produces a dense, flavorful cookie that everyone seems to enjoy. In the fall, I make these for all of our football tailgate parties because they pack so well. During the winter months, especially for holiday parties, I add a cup of chocolate chips to the mix for a heartier cookie. The combination of peanut butter and chocolate is a flavor that just can’t be beat!

Favorite Peanut Butter Cookies

2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 cups peanut butter ( smooth or crunchy)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray cookie sheets with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. Stir in the peanut butter. Next, stir in the baking soda, salt, and vanilla. Use a small ice cream scoop to form dough into 1″ balls and place them 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets. Press a criss-cross into the top using the back of a fork. Sprinkle with a little sugar.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Posted in Baked goods, Baking, Bread, breakfast, Brunch, holidays

Dutch Apple Pancake

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I have great memories of our years living in Chicago with our young family. One of my favorite breakfast spots was a neighborhood restaurant called “The Original Pancake House”. We would pack up the kids after mass on Sunday and head up Western Avenue to the local restaurant. As we walked in the door, nearly every table held a plate or two filled with a puffed apple pancake sprinkled with powdered sugar and topped with a dollop of butter.
When we moved out of state, I vowed to duplicate the recipe myself so that we could forever enjoy the deliciousness of our favorite pancake.
This morning, I pulled out a few ingredients and made my version of the recipe for the family. This pancake presents beautifully for a special occasion but it’s certainly easy enough to whip up any time.

Dutch Apple Pancake

2 Golden Delicious apples, cored, peeled, and thinly sliced
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Heat oven to 425°. Put an oven-proof 9- or 10-inch skillet or round baking pan in the oven. In a bowl, combine the apple slices with brown sugar and cinnamon; toss gently to coat well. In another bowl, mix flour with salt. In a large cup or small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of the melted butter.
Take the pan out of the oven and add remaining butter; swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Arrange apple slices in the bottom of the pan. Pour batter over apples. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned. Serve with syrup and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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