Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Sugar Cookies

This year's Christmas sugar cookies were game-changers.  For the past two years, Ava and Sidney have been making and decorating Christmas cookies that Sidney could not eat because they contained dairy and eggs.  This year I found a dairy, egg and nut free recipe that will put your sugar cookie recipe to SHAME!  (or maybe not, but these cookies are seriously amazing and I'm so happy that Sidney could enjoy them with us finally).

I adapted the recipe below from the Speed Bump Kitchen blog.  Here's my version:

½ cup Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks (or shortening, margarine, or coconut oil)
⅔ cup sugar
¼ cup dairy-free milk (I use Silk Soy Milk) + 1T cider vinegar
2 cups flour
½ t. baking soda
¼ t. salt
1T. vanilla (optional but I used it)
a pinch of cinnamon (optional but I used it)
Cookie decorating icing and sprinkles

1.  In a large bowl, cream the sugar and butter together until smooth.
2.  Combine the milk and vinegar together and then add to the sugar mixture.  Beat until smooth again.
3.  Add the vanilla and cinnamon and mix well.  The dough is going to look gross - like scrambled eggs - but don't worry.  Once you add the dry ingredients it will look normal.
4.  In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking soda and salt and slowly add to the sugar mixture.
5.  Wrap in plastic wrap, shape into a big disk and freeze for ½ hour.
6.  Roll to ¼ inch thickness and cut out as you like.
7.  Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheets at 350 degrees for 8 minutes for soft cookies (they may seem barely baked, but they’ll firm up when cooled). 
8.  Cool completely on a cookie sheet before icing.  I just transferred the whole sheet of parchment paper with cookies on top to a cookie sheet to cool.

We used Betty Crocker Cookie Icing to decorate the sugar cookies.  We also used holiday sprinkles, dairy-free chocolate chips and sugar crystals.  Here are some pics of the girls' cookies!

I have a general policy against eating food made by kids, even my own, so I can't speak for how their cookies taste.  But mine are fantastic!  I am single-handedly eating them all by myself!  I just used sugar crystals. You sprinkle them on before you bake the cookies - so easy!
Merry Christmas from me in my PJ's!

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Snowball Cookies

Snowball Cookies are probably my favorite homemade Christmas cookie.  I double the ingredients this year so I'd have some leftovers after I package our gifts for the neighbors. No amount of exercise could possible compensate for the number of Snowball Cookies I have consumed!

I've tried a few online recipes over the years.  Here is my version:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature 
1 ½ cups powdered sugar 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
¼ teaspoons salt
2 cups all purpose flour 
½ cup ground slivered almonds
¼ cup ground pecans
¼ cup ground walnuts
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.
2.  Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. 
3.  Add ½ cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. 
4.  Beat in flour, salt.  Grind nuts in a food processor then add to mixture. 

5.  Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic and refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes, until the dough is chilled but not hard and is no longer sticky to the touch.
6.  Whisk remaining 1 cup powdered sugar and cinnamon in pie dish to blend. Set cinnamon sugar aside. 
7.  Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 1 tablespoonfuls between palms into balls. 
8.  Arrange balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing ½ inch apart. 
9.  Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 10 minutes. 
10.  Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. 
11.  Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. 

12.  Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. 
13.  Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. (Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature; reserve remaining cinnamon sugar.) 

14.  Sift remaining cinnamon sugar over cookies and serve.

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

The Snowball Cookies completed the Treat Trio that I gave our neighbors!  I arranged the cookies on a rectangular holiday plate with a doily. Then I wrapped them in clear cellophane and tied them with red tulle.

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Peppermint Bark

I have some pretty generous and talented neighbors who like to bake treats for us around Christmastime, which is why every year I make my kids suffer through my endless baking for other people!  It kills them that we don't keep everything that is baked (even though Ava is the only one who can eat any of it!).

This year I'm baking a treat trio!  Rolo Pretzels, Snowball Cookies (more to come on this) and Peppermint Bark.  The Pioneer Woman promised that the Peppermint Bark recipe was easy and I'm happy to say that she was right.  This recipe only calls for 3 ingredients and the hardest part is waiting for 2 hours while it hardens in the fridge.

3 cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 can (14 oz) Sweetened Condensed Milk
Crushed peppermint candies

1.  Line a square 8x8 pan with foil and smooth the surface.  Spray foil with nonstick spray.  I just threw out my 8x8 pan so I used some heavy duty foil to form a square-ish shape.

2.  Combine the chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk in a double boiler over medium heat.  Heat until melted, about 5-7 minutes.  Don't leave it on the heat for too long or the chocolate will ruin.  I don't have a double boiler so I fit a ceramic mixing bowl over a pot filled with boiling water and inserted a baking thermometer between the bowl and the pot so that the steam could release.

3.  Remove from heat and stir until smooth, then immediately pour it into the foil-lined pan.

4.  Use a spatula to smooth the surface, then sprinkle on the crushed peppermint.

5.  Refrigerate for 2 hours, then cut into small squares.  I trimmed the edges before I cut into squares.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Letter of the Week - Kk

K is for King
Here's what you need for this project:
- cardstock (3 different colors)
- jewels
- glue

Click here for free printable Upper Case Letter templates.

K is for Kite
Here's what you need for this project:
- cardstock (4 different colors)
- gift wrapping ribbon
- tape
- glue
- marker

Click here for free printable Lower Case Letter templates.

Sight Words
This week's Sight Word is:
- kite


Here are some library books we reserved to go along with our theme:

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Anheuser Busch Brewery Lights

The weather "warmed" up this past weekend so we decided to go see the Anheuser Busch Bewery Lights.  We had never been before and there is so little information online that I had no idea what to expect. It was so much better than I anticipated!  If you haven't seen the AB lights, read on!  You don't know what you're missing!

The lights opened at 6pm but we decided to go early (about 5:30pm) because we figured most of St. Louis and Illinois would be out enjoying the warmer weather (we were right). There was still parking available in the lot when we arrived, but I'm not sure where you'd park if the lot filled up...After you park, everyone enters through the main building and waits inside until 6pm.  There's no big line to stand in.  People just stand around or play foosball or shop in the gift shop. There was even a big restaurant in there.  

At 6pm they let everyone outside to see the lights.  It probably took less than 5 minutes for all the people inside to make their way outside.

Once you get outside there are several trams (just like the ones at Grant's Farm) that you can get on to ride around the lights.  The girls love riding in anything that's not a car so we hopped on a tram.  There were red blankets on the benches that you could use if you were cold.

The tram ride down Budweiser Boulevard is pretty short but I recommend riding the tram to the end of the route and then walking back.  The tram makes 3 stops.  At each stop they highlight one of their beers and have sampling stations.

Our favorite stop was the last stop - The Rita Cabana.  Yes that is a Christmas tree in sand!

Near the Rita Cabana they had a giant light bright set up. The girls worked on covering the light bright for at least 20 minutes.

Right next to the giant light bright they had bean bag toss games set up.

Throughout the lights they had Adirondack chairs or hay bales set up next to fire pits.  They have s'mores making kits that you can buy.  They also had kettle corn and hot chocolate for sale.

There were a few things we didn't get to do.  We didn't have time to visit the Clydesdale Stables.  We also didn't get to take a picture inside the giant snow globe.

We all had a great time - the warmer weather made a big difference and allowed us to stay longer too.  And it was fun seeing a new light display!  Hope you get to see it too!

Oh! There was also an STL250 cake outside the main entrance!  That makes 128 for us!

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Salt Dough Christmas Ornaments

My girls love salt dough ornaments - mostly because it involves cookie cutters and paint!  I love them because you only need three ingredients to make these - flour, salt and water - all of which I always have on hand.

We made salt dough handprint ornaments last Christmas...

And we made Easter Tree ornaments this past Easter...

This year we decided to make ornaments to go with our standard St. Louis Bread Company (aka; Panera Bread) gift cards that we give the girls' teachers for Christmas.  Ava also wanted to give some to the girls in her girl scout troop so we bought some mini candy canes, Christmas pencils and Christmas erasers to go with the ornament and a little wallet pic of her school photo.

Salt Dough Ingredients:
1 cup of flour 
1/4 cup of salt
7 Tbsp water

1. Preheat oven to 300°F. 
2. Mix together flour, salt, and water. Knead with your hands until combined (~5 minutes).
3. On a sheet of parchment paper, roll out the dough to ~1/4-inch thick and press cookie cutters into dough.  If the dough is too sticky when you're rolling it out, spread some flour on your rolling pin.

4. Tear off the dough around the cookie cutter before removing cookie cutter.

5. Use a straw to poke a hole in each ornament (this is where the ribbon will go later). 

6. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden.

7. Wait for ornaments to cool, then paint as desired. Acrylic or Outdoor paint works best. We used the Craft Smart acrylic paint from Michaels and it worked great.  It's also more affordable if you want to buy several colors.

8. When dry, thread a ribbon through each straw hole to create ornament hangers. All of the Christmas ribbon is on sale at the craft stores!

Merry Christmas!!

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