Thursday, July 24, 2014

Christmas in July-Last Year's Cookie Exchange

 Speaking of cookie exchanges.  We were on that topic, right?  Look, I always take all these pictures in December, but since I blog in advance most of my post-my blog is usually super full, so I have to put it off until the next year, but then....my blog is full again, so I dlecide to divide some of these things out....and since most of the craft stores probably have started clearing some aisles for Christmas....why not throw on a few ideas here as well.  The last 5 years or so we've done a cookie exchange at work.  We do a little different twist because there are a lot of ladies that love to bake and would like to share some cookies-or rather the recipes, so our take on the traditional cookie exchange is more of a recipe exchange.  Whoever wants to participate signs up in advance (we usually have anywhere from 17-25 participants depending on the year.  Once I have a count I send it out and each person is responsible for bring a bag of two cookies for each person with the recipe attached.  It gives us all a chance to try out new recipes, but we usually just have to bake a double batch of cookies.  I always get some great recipes to add to my collection, and I don't have to try baking them all myself-and get to try some of my pins without the work!
We lay them all out on the counter, then each person goes around with a basket or a bag and takes one of each other person's cookies. There were a ton of great recipes I'll share.  Some decorate their bags, other just do the ziplock thing=I'm fine with either-it's what's inside that counts, right?  ;o)
Here are two of the recipes I loved...
Elf Treats-they reminded me a peanut butter/chocolate rice crispie treat-a marriage of some of my favorite things!
 Elf Treat Cookies
by Laine and Stacey
Ingredients:  1 c. sugar, 1 1/3 c. creamy peanut butter, 4 1/4 c. rice crispie treats, 1 c. corn syrup, 1 pinch of salt, 3/4 c. chocolate chips, 6 chopped Reese's peanut butter cup
Instructions:In a large saucepan melt sugar, corn syrup, and peanut butter over medium heat until smooth. Remove from heat.  Quickly add the salt and cereal and stir to combine.  Add the chocolate chips and stire again.  Wait 1 minute and then add Reese's and fold mix together.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper and press down.  Cut into bars when cooled.
...and a second one....
I also loved these chocolate ones-they are my perfect combo of sweet and salty!
Salted Chewy Chocolate Cookies
 by Claire
Ingredients: 1 1/4 cup butter, 2 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 2 tsp vanilla, 2 cup flour, 3/4 cup cocoa, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, Kosher salt to top
Instructions:  Preheat over 350 degrees.  In a bowl cream together the butter and sugar then add the eggs and vanilla.  Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into mix and beat until blended.  Drop by tablespoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Sprinkle a dash of Kosher salt on top of the dough.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Cool on a cookie sheet for one minute.  Cool on rack.  
 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Making Your List Christmas Gift Idea

I love having creative friends.  When I get adorable gifts-I get to blog about them.  It's a win win.  I know, it's July.  But still....Christmas is just 5 months away...so....if you are like me-I'm already thinking/shopping/trying to come up with knew things to give the people I give to year after year.  Here's one I enjoyed getting.  Amber found this cute bag with my initial and stored some fun things to 'check off my list' in order to have a relaxing holiday...all of which were enjoyed and used-tea, chocolates, candles, and fuzzy socks.  Cute and fun, and functional.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Christmas in July: Hosting a Cookie Decorating Party

I know I know....it's July.  But...this is when I start planning Christmas...

...just kidding.  I really start planning 'next' Christmas on December 26th!  I just heart a good Christmas party.  I could wait to post this closer to the holidays, but....my blog is always really full around Christmas, and...this is when I started prepping for this party.  I blogged all about these little cookie boxes I put together with a lot of goodies for the gals who came.  Here is that posting.  
 Since these were full, I provided some shirt boxes to tote their cookies home, and some printables to go with some of the shapes I made (more on this later).
 I made a ton of cookies, and had each girl bring something different-icing, sprinkles, etc.
 I put everything in ziplock bags for piping, had plates and knives and we just let our creativity loose.
 It was fun to just hang out and chat...and consume cookies.
Each gal had their own style.
I've done cookie decorating/cookie exchanges different ways each year....this was another fun one.  Now....time to get ready for next year and secretly listen to a Christmas song or two.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Oreo Fluff

I am a fan of the Oreo Cookie.  So...when I saw another use for it....I did not pass go.  I did not collect $200.  I made Oreo Fluff.  Same difference.  It's like pudding.  With Magic.  Oreo Magic.  The original recipe came from foodfamily.  Just a hit-I was able to find the white chocolate pudding mix at Walmart.
Oreo Fluff
Ingredients:  1 small box of White Chocolate instant pudding mix, 2 cups of milk, 1 small tub of Cool Whip, 24 Oreos, crushed, 2 cups of mini marshmallows
Instructions:  
1.  Whisk together the pudding mix and milk for 2 minutes.
2.  Fold in the cool whip, Oreos , and marshmallows.  Combine well.
3.  Place in the fridge until serving.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pimento Cheese Tarts

 Recently I ran into another blogger, she told me about her site, so I had to check it out.  I found the recipe for these at lanabird here.  Pimento cheese....these had my name written all over it.  I've been slightly obsessed with the stuff for the last 5 or so years....I can't explain it.  These were really easy to put together, and as the original recipe said, these make great appetizers at parties and showers.
Pimento Cheese Tarts
Ingredients:  2 boxes of mini fillo dough shells, 1 1/5 cup of your favorite pimento cheese, one egg white
 Instructions:  Whip the egg white until it forms stiff peeks (it takes me about 4 minutes on high to reach this), fold in pimento cheese.  Fill pie tarts with pimento cheese mix.
Cook at 375 for 12 minutes.  The tarts will be a light brown.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Birthday in a Box

I have a friend I wanted to do something fun for on her birthday.  Year's ago, my friend Neka sent me a big box for my summer birthday (while I was home for the summer from college) with all the fixings for a great birthday.  I did it on a little bit smaller scale.  I saw a few little ideas like this, and decided I had to try it out.  I cut out a birthday banner with some scrap paper and strung it on a string.  
 Added candles, balloons, a little card, and some candy and fun 'party stuffing.'
 I bought this little clear box at the container store b/c it made it that much more fun.
 For the price of a card (less, really) I was able to add a stamp and mail this out.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Panda Express Chow Mein

One of my guilty pleasures is the chow mein at Panda Express.  I can't explain it-but I love it.  I saw the recipe for a copy cat of this dish via EatCakeForDinner and I was skeptical....
Guess what?  It was de-li-cious, and it taste exactly like P.E.....and it was super easy to make.  With the vegetables thrown it-I'm even pretending it's healthy.
This is one of my favorite recipe finds in awhile...so...if you are looking for something that fits the bill...
Chow Mein
Ingredients:  1/4 c. soy sauce, 1 T. brown sugar, 2 cloves garlic (minced), 1 t. ginger (grated-I just popped a little off a large cluster at the store-it was really cheap), black pepper (to taste), 2 T. vegetable oil, 2/3 c. celery (sliced), 1/2 medium onion (thinly sliced), 2 c. cabbage (shredded), 15 oz of chow mein noodles (they sell this fresh near the produce, but I found in near the asian foods, and just boiled it for 2 of the 3 minutes the package called for, drained it, and added it to the mix when it was called for to finish the cooking).
Instructions:  Combine the soy, b. sugar, garlic, ginger, and black pepper-set aside.  Boil the noodles as directed (I went a little under the required time so they wouldn't get too mushy).  Heat oil in a wok.  Add the celery, onion and saute until the onions are soft and translucent.  Add the cabbage and saute a couple more minutes until soft.  Add the noodles and soy mix.  Toss together.  Serve immediately.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fifties Drinks

I attended a 60th birthday party a few months back and I was in charge of drinks.  So...I decided to go with the good ol' days of glass bottles.  I grabbed a variety of drinks (and later waters) and got this old crate (I stole in from my Mom)....straws and bottle top opener (even though they twist off....whatever).  This is also a super simple idea for a backyard bbq...it was a convenient way to carry my drinks....go figure.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

2 T. of Milk in an 'Emergency'

 I rarely buy milk because...well, I rarely drink it...unless there is a box of Lucky Charms around.  When I do need milk, it's usually a tablespoon or two for icing.  I've frozen milk before in disposable containers, but then someone shared with me this idea for freezing it in ice cube trays.  First, I had to dust off my ice cube trays, but then I filled and froze them with some of the milk I bought that was about to 'go bad' (fine, for my Lucky Charms...I had the ratio wrong and had more milk that charms).  I started by 'measuring' it with T, but then quickly figured out 2 T. is pretty much the exact size of the cube.  This works so much better for me b/c the defrosting is so much easier, and in the past, one my whole container was defrosted I had to chunk the rest b/c I didn't think the freeze/thaw/freeze thing worked as well.  Bring on the Easy Mac and Icing Recipes-I'm ready for ya!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

DIY Gold and Pink Confetti Streamer

 I've seen versions of this around and I decided I wanted to give it a go.  I'm putting together someone different party gear for my Mom's upcoming 60th.  A portion of the festivities I want to be pink and gold...so...I found some different papers with shine and glitter.
 I punched out circles and taped it evenly along a string.
 I took a second matching circle and hot glued it to the second side to give it a neater finish...
 To keep it from tangling (I learned this the hard way) I have it stored on a piece of cardboard until party day.  Seems like a silly detail, but...after the first time I stored it without this little guy-I think I can avoid streamer therapy.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole

I'm always looking for a filling recipe, and when I saw this on pinterest via RachelSchultz-I was intrigued.  I halved the original recipe, but it went a long way, and it lasted long beyond the last bite.  The cheese gives it a great flavor, and the rice stuck with me, which was a great combo!
So the next time you are hungry (and I'm speaking to future me... in third person, annoying), pull this out of the recipe vault....
Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole
Ingredients:  3 T olive oil, 1 white onion (diced), 3 stalks celery (diced), 3 carrots (diced), 2 T garlic (minced), 2 c chicken breast (cooked and shredded), 1 c. white rice, 16 oz wild rice, 3 T butter, 1/4 c. whole wheat flour, 1 c. vegetable broth, 4 c. cheddar cheese (shredded), garlic salt, salt and pepper.
Instructions:  Cook both rices according to packaged instructions.  Cook and shred the chicken.  Heat oil, onion, celery, garlic, and carrots in a pan over med heat for 10 minutes.  Stir in chicken, rices, and a dash of salt pepper, and garlic salt.  Reduce heat to low.  In a second pan over med/high, melt the butter.  Whisk in flour, vegetable broth (I used chicken), and salt and pepper to taste.  Continue to whisk until boiling.  Add 2 c. shredded cheddar cheese and stir until melted.  Place chicken and rice mix into a greased 9x13 pan.  Pour cheese sauce over rices and top with remaining cheddar.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Glacier National Park

 I spent last week in Glacier National Park.  A few years ago I completed my quest to visit all 50 states, and my ambition has refocused to visiting some of the National Parks I missed out on when I visited their state.  This park was one I've heard about a few times, but I'm wondering why I haven't heard more after visiting it.  It has to be one of the most beautiful places on planet earth.
The park is broken into two parts in America, with a third section in Canada.  The western portion is the most visited, and it has more forest, waterfalls, and water.  The East side is more rugged with jutting peaks, visible (melting!) glaciers, and lots of wildlife.  Not knowing much, I booked a room at Many Glacier Hotel on the East Side.
 The hotel was built in the day of the railroad, and modeled after Alpine villages to pull in American travelers.  I've been to Switzerland once and the whole time, I really did feel like I was back in Switzerland.  The weather was still a little chilly.  Roads were still closed due to snow, in fact, they had an avalanche the week before, so a large portion of Going to the Sun road was closed.  I'm never going to complain about chilly nights when I know I'm heading back to a Texas summer, so each evening I sat in the lobby and enjoyed the fireplace.
 The days we were there, no wind was present, so all of the lakes (and there are tons) had mirror reflections of the trees and mountains.  Seriously, no picture can do it justice.
 I took a famous red bus tour as far the road would allow.
 The goal is to get from one side of the park to the other, and without an avalanche blocking the road, it would have worked, but what I did see was pretty stunning-no surprise.
There were tons of waterfalls with all the snow melt coming down they were at their full potential.  
 The reason why I like to risk those snowy roads in June is because it usually means that the animals are still hanging out pretty low in the valley-case in point-this bear and her cubs were hanging out in this meadow for a few hours.
 Another thing I read about the Glacier area was to try out the pies.  I grabbed pie at the Park Cafe one afternoon-it was probably the best meal I ate while in the area.  They were out of a lot of different flavors of pies by the time we arrived (huckleberry was my goal), but I don't think they make a bad pie.
 We took hikes (what Glacier is known for), boat rides out to see a few glaciers (the park is named for the fact that is was carved by glaciers, but if you want to see one of those sculptures, the goal is to visit in the next 15 years before they are projected to be totally gone). I spent a lot of time watching wildlife (you definitely want to hike with your bear spray....we saw more than a dozen animals-moose swimming, bears and their cubs, elk,deer etc).
After 5 days we headed to the Canadian side of the park, Waterton.  This time I stayed at the Prince of Wales hotels, another great railroad hotel with some really fun features, and a gorgeous view.
 I only spent about 24 hours here before I had to head home to Calgary, but I could literally not drive down a single park road without seeing a few bears.  We even had to pause while two crossed the road.
Red Rock Canyon was at the end of one road, which was such a neat site to see this red rock running through these gray mountains.
 I also accidentally came during their wildflower festival, so the wildflowers lined all the roads and were incredibly stunning.
The best meals I ate the whole week were in Canada at the hotel and the town of Waterton.  The best places to spot wildlife-the Many Glacier Area.  Both hotels were awesome.  There were tons of choices in the American side of the park, and Many Glacier was a little more isolated, and it took awhile to get from East to West, but the drive was no burden with those amazing views.  I didn't know what to expect when visiting Glacier, but....it's one of the places I'll definitely go back, and I got to relax, which is not a word I use very often when I travel.