December 11, 2014

Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas

One of my favorite parts of the Blogosphere right now is all the holiday gift lists. Here are a few of the random things I'm loving lately. Do you have an amazing product you want to shout from the rooftops? Let me know! I still have a few people left on my list!

I've posted about these before but I know there are people out there that still don't use these scoops. These are one of my favorite kitchen tools. I use them to scoop out even cookies, portion batter into muffin tins, make even and round pancakes, and more. They're kind of addicting and even though I'm trying to become a kitchen minimalist, I still want a few more sizes of these. This multipack is a great place to start and useful to any kitchen. I never make cookie or cupcakes without a scoop. It's just so easy and they look like a million bucks.

Are you still looking for the perfect present for your kids? There are the toy of the year at our house- beloved by all from ages 1-8 (and everyone who comes to play). They are easy to pick up, have no little painful pieces to step or choke on, and encourage a lot of creative building. My kids love to make tall 3D structures and come up with something new every time. They're expensive but well made and really encourage the kind of play that we want. We have the 100 piece set and hope Santa will double that this year. No report on the knock offs but my kids have played hard with these- building and destroying towers, with helpful toddlers stepping on them all along the way. Not one has broken so way to go Magnatiles. We've heard great things about Magformers, too.

Right now my toddler is mauling the screen while pointing at the Magnatiles picture and asking for more. They really are that good.

My best friend does hair and got me hooked on this product a couple of years ago. She uses it as a detangler on all of her clients and recommends it for every hair type. It's a lightweight spray with a subtle, fresh smell (I am really anti smell and we have lots of sneezy people are our house and this is highly approved). I spray it on the ends of my hair right out of the shower before brushing. I also use it to style my girls hair. "Baby Strawberry" has curly-ish hair and this adds moisture and defrizzes her hair. It also makes mean work of bed head and keeps their hair soft and nice while reducing the tears and drama of doing little girls hair. Find it on Amazon or at Ulta. CVS even carries it but they charge an arm and a leg.

 Wet Brush, $5- $12

I can't mention shine milk without thinking of my Wet Brush. This is my go to brush for wet or dry hair. Maybe you already have one but it's come to my attention recently that some people still haven't tried them. They are amazing- even my ultra sensitive daughter can have her good morning rats nest tamed with this brush without a tear. My favorite is the paddle brush and we also have the little baby brushes for my girls to use and to go in the diaper bag and car. They're available on Amazon, at Target, and I find them sometimes at TJ Maxx. There are tons of knock offs out there but I use the real deal. Has anyone tried both? We tried the Knot Genie which came highly recommended but it was not nearly as soft or effective as this. Not impressed.

I usually make caramel sauce but you can't beat this one from Trader Joe's. It's only a couple dollars for the cute little glass jar and it's delicious. We like to dip apples in it or drizzle it over ice cream and brownies. I mixed it with powdered sugar and milk to make a caramel glaze for my apple pie at Thanksgiving. No we don't eat it with a spoon out of the jar straight from the fridge that would be ridiculous. Find it at Trader Joe's (see the link here on Amazon). This would make a sweet neighbor gift with a few yummy apples or on it's own.

I love the look of lipstick but can't handle it too often. Too many monkeys helping and touching me all day to worry about that! These Revlon Balm Stains are easy to apply (they look like a giant crayon) and last well. You can layer the coverage for a subtle or bolder look according to your needs. I keep this in my bag and can slip a little on so I look less like the sleep deprived mommy that I am or put on a nice thorough layer for a really bold lip for date night (or girls night, make up is for the ladies really. I think my husband would prefer if I never wore lip color ever again.) At around $5-8 it's easy to experiment with colors (this one is my favorite).

They last a really long time, too, unless your toddler decides to copy mommy. Find them on Amazon or at Target.

I love my embroidered Mexican shirt from Flor de Luz's shop. It's so happy and pretty and I wear it every time it's clean (much to my Mom's chagrin). I have a few for my girls, too, and have been known to bribe my oldest daughter with a chocolate chip to wear her's at my whim. Look at this fancy one! And I love these black tops too.

I want Santa to bring this one for my toddler!

People tell me all the time they're too scared or klutzy for liquid eyeliner. This Stila Stay All Day waterproof liquid eyeliner is my favorite. It's so easy apply- it feels just like you're using a marker. It wears well and lasts all day without flaking and doesn't make my hypersensitive eyes water (I don't use it on the waterline but use a pencil liner there). This makes a great cat eye or a simple subtle line and comes in a ton of colors. It also comes off easily without tugging or pulling on your eye.

Marc Jacob's also makes an amazing liner (with even sexier packaging) called the Magic Marc'er and it's even blacker. I love it but it costs A LOT and the applicator wears out before the product runs out so I wouldn't recommend it unless you have eyeliners to burn and can afford to replace this every month... which is ridiculous. Don't forget Sephora has a great return policy if you really don't like what you buy.

I love this Scotch laminator. It doesn't take up much room and is really useful to have around the house if you're a little OCD like I am. I've used it for kids crafts, organizing, church projects, and more. My son is always asking me to laminate a bookmark from school or favorite drawing. It's quick and easy to use (just put your paper inside the plastic sleeve and run it through the feeder) and I love not having to run to the store to laminate something. It comes with some sheets to get you started and you can buy refills at Target or at Michaels (with a coupon) or on Amazon of course. This has really come in handy at my house and doesn't take up much room to store. Win win.

Nail polish gets better every year! I love hearing about new types and testing them out. My favorite brand is OPI but my special splurge is Gel or Shellac nails. I share the CND Shellac System with my mom and sister in law and it makes for an absolutely gorgeous manicure. It's a more time involved process, though, and removal requires soaking. My new go to happy medium polish is the CND Vinylux. It wears well for a week without chipping and has awesome and reasonably priced colors. It will keep your pedicure looking perfect for weeks, too. I have some of the colors but usually cheat and just use this top coat over my OPI.  When I don't have time for color I just my favorite base coat- OPI Nail Envy. It strengthens your nails and helps them grow in nicely. It also fills the natural ridges and will protect your nails from discoloring over time from polish so I use it as a base whenever I paint my nails. When I do this for my girls it helps their polish stay on longer, too (are my kids the only ones whose nail polish just chips right off?!) On it's own the Nail Envy dries in just one minute so I can have shiny clean nails in a hurry.

The last one isn't a gift exactly but will give you a little pocket change to get yourself something nice after all your online shopping. I've been using Ebates for years and it's a totally free website that gives you a percent back of your online purchase. All you do is sign up and sign in and when you go to buy something online, search their site for the store you're looking for. Almost every site I use is there- Gap, Target, Sephora, Macy's, Nordstrom, WalMart, Kohl's, etc. Cash back typically ranges from 3-10 percent and over black Friday weekend I got cash back from each of these places up to 15%! They record your purchase and credit your account after your order is processed. It takes about two seconds of extra work and then you receive payment a few times a year via check or PayPal. It's always a pleasant surprise to see a PayPal credit in my account amidst all the withdrawals! I also use ShopatHome which is a similar free service and compare who offers the better cash back percentage that day (they vary). Give it a try- it really adds up if you shop online!

What are you asking Santa for this year? Le Creuset and All Clad? I'm trying to de-highmaintenance-ify myself but let's be honest they are always, always on this cooks wish list. Do you have any awesome products to recommend?

*some affiliate links used. that means you pay the same price but a portion of the sale price comes back to me to help support this sorely neglected blog and my Trader Joe's habit.*

November 30, 2014

Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls

My five year old loves cinnamon rolls and asks me to make them for her at least once a week. We don't indulge that often but I try to at least every month or two. I love to bake with her but it feels like I'm always out of time for a long recipe. My new favorite way to make cinnamon rolls in the bread machine. It doesn't take a fancy machine or any tricks (I have a cheap old one I got for a dollar at the thrift store. Classy. Still dreaming of one of these some day, though!) I still love my favorite recipe from the Bread Baker's Apprentice but I haven't had anyone notice the difference. All you have to do is toss the ingredients into the machine, run the dough cycle, and roll out the rolls as soon as it beeps.

My go to roll recipe is from Salad in a Jar. She has the best bread recipes. I've adapted this one to be dairy free when I make them for my husband. The recipe is flexible and comes out great even with almond milk and oil instead of the dairy. Don't get me wrong, my KitchenAid is still my favorite and I look forward to hanging out with her but when there's just no time, the bread machine is a viable option for quick and delicious cinnamon rolls with less hands-on time.

{these always get eaten before I get a picture!}

Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls
from Anne Strawberry
adapted from Salad in a Jar

1 cup warm milk (I've successfully substituted with almond milk)
¼ cup butter (or oil)
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3 tablespoons sugar
3 cups unbleached flour
2¼ teaspoons bread or instant yeast

1/4 cup butter, softened (I omit this or use a little oil when I'm making these dairy free)
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Add all ingredients to the bread machine in the order listed. Run the dough cycle and come back after dough is risen. Roll out dough on floured surface into a large rectangle. Top with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon. Roll into a log and slice into inch thick rolls. Line up on baking sheet and let rise until puffy and doubled. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and beautiful.

Top with your favorite frosting- this is mine. My husband prefers a simple powdered sugar and milk glaze.

October 20, 2014

New Cookbooks

We interrupt this blog radio silence to let you know that my two favorite cookbook authors have new books coming out this month! Make It Ahead from the Barefoot Contessa's Ina Garten comes out next week. It's no secret that I have a serious Barefoot crush. Her recipes always turn out, are flexible, and can please a crowd. Watching her show relaxes me and makes me want to go cook until I drop. I love her. Meeting Ina is on my bucket list and almost happened when her last book came out until Hurricane Sandy changed her book tour schedule and Arizona was dropped from her tour. She's not coming here this time but maybe she's coming to your city. Go meet her for me! Maybe next book...

Dorie Greenspan's new book, Baking Chez Moi- Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere, is also coming out on the 28th. I've baked through about 95% of the recipes from Dorie's book Baking from My Home to Yours and can't say enough good things about them. I loved participating in Tuesdays with Dorie and can't wait to see this newest book. Her recipes are easy to follow and have taught me skills to apply in other recipes that have been invaluable. The photographs are always stunning in her books, as well.

Now I'm kind of torn because I don't know which to ask for for my anniversary. Are you ordering these? What cookbooks are you loving these days? I do get a lot of my recipes online but for my real favorites there's nothing like the physical cookbook and I can't wait to get these on my shelves.

For the other Ina fans out there, have you read this interview? I loved hearing more about how she really eats and cooks (oatmeal every day! Seriously!)

February 10, 2014

Frosted Sugar Cookies for Valentines Day

A while ago a frosted sugar cookie recipe was bouncing around on the internet. I try really hard to give a recipe a shot before I modify it but I'm kind of particular about how I make my cookies. I baked them as is and then a couple more times with my modifications. This is now a tried and true, man, woman, and child approved recipe around here. These cookies are easy to make, cute, and totally happy. The frosting has a little tang from the sour cream and perfectly compliments the slightly sandy yet tender cookie texture.

I added one drop of red food coloring to the frosting to make it the lightest pink. With that, a giant red heart sprinkle from the local cake store, and some edible glitter, these were the cutest little valentines cookies- without the painstaking piping that I love but can't work up the will to do most days. I served these to a crowd of men and not one of them whined about the color (and most clamored for more). These would be so easy to modify- add some extracts to the cookies or frosting to change up the flavors. I might have to make a green minty version for St. Patrick's Day!

Frosted Sugar Cookies aka Swig Cookies
from Anne Strawberry

1 cup Butter (plain shortening is fine, I do this for my dairy free husband sometimes although butter is best)
3/4 cup Canola Oil (or whatever oil you prefer)
1 1/2 cups Sugar
1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
2 tablespoons Milk or Cream (whatever you have on hand)
2 teaspoons Vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Kosher salt (for table salt use 1/2 teaspoon)
5 cups Flour (as needed- start with 4 1/2)
2 tablespoons Sugar, for flattening the cookies

Cream together the butter, oil, and sugars. Mix in milk, cream, and vanilla until smooth and incorporated. Add dry ingredients and mix gently- adding flour as needed. The texture should be soft but not too wet, just like snickerdoodle or chocolate chip cookie dough. Be careful not to overmix the cookies once the dry ingredients are added or the cookies will be tough. Scoop the cookies onto the cookie sheet with a stainless steel cookie scoop onto a Silpat or parchment lined cookie sheet. Smoosh the cookies down a little bit using a flat bottomed glass or measuring cup dipped in water then sugar (this is optional but will leave a little sugary crust on top and some cute ruffled edges). Bake at 350 for about 8 minutes until the edges barely start to brown. Don't overbake- these will get a little harder as they cool. Frost with sour cream frosting using a butter knife or offset spatula. These will keep at room temperature for a couple days, tightly covered.

Sour Cream Frosting
1/2 cup Butter, softened (one stick)
1/2 cup Sour Cream

2 tablespoons Milk, as needed
1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract

dash of salt
6 cups of powdered sugar (more or less to achieve desired consistency, this is a baseline)
1 Tablespoon meringue powder (optional but very helpful! you can find this in the cake decorating section at Walmart, Michaels, or Joann's. Or on Amazon of course. It lasts forever and really improves the texture of your frosting.)


In a mixer with the whisk attachment, combine the butter and sour cream until light and fluffy. Add in vanilla and salt, and blend.
Next, add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, cover the bowl of the mixer with a dish towel, and turn it on low until everything is combined. Then increase the speed for a minute or so until the frosting is light, fluffy, and delicious. The meringue powder will help set the frosting after it dries so it holds its shape.
If the icing is to dry, add a little more sour cream or some milk.

Add 1 T. Lemon or orange zest and substitute juice for the milk to make a tangy citrus frosting
. Alternately, you can flavor with mint extract or almond extract.