Monday, September 24, 2012

Cream Cheese M&M Sugar Cookies

Let me start by saying that over the years I've come to a new appreciation for sugar cookies. Maybe it's because I've come across a few truly delicious recipes that don't even need frosting to make them delicious. When I was growing up, I loved eating sugar cookie dough, but was usually left pretty un-enthused after they were baked. Not the case anymore! My favorite cut-out recipe uses cream cheese, and my favorite drop recipe uses sour cream. The addition of those simple ingredients takes them over the top and keeps you coming back to eat cookie after cookie after cookie . . .

However, this recipe is neither of those, but oh is it good! There's a little bit of cream cheese in the dough, which adds a hint of tang once they're baked up. You don't have to use the M&Ms if you don't want to; these are seriously scrumptious without. You roll the dough in sugar before baking them, which creates this thin crust of sugary goodness. Then, the inside of the cookie is so deliciously chewy as to be pretty much indescribable. One of my favorite things about these cookies is their texture - wonderful.

You could certainly roll them in colored sugar to make them more festive around Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, etc. Or, try mixing in different things - white chocolate chips, toffee pieces, crushed candy canes, etc. The possibilities are endless!

Cream Cheese M&M Sugar Cookies (original recipe can be found here)
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 c. plus 1/3 c. sugar
6 Tbls. butter, melted
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 egg
1 Tbls. milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 c. flour
1 1/4 c. M&Ms
1. Beat cream cheese and 1 1/2 c. sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy - 3 minutes.
2. Add butter and oil and beat again on medium speed 1 minute. Scrape down bowl.
3. Add egg, milk, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix until everything comes together and is smooth and creamy, 2 minutes.
4. Stir in flour until mostly combined, then stir in M&Ms until everything is just combined. Don't overmix.
5. Refrigerate dough 1-2 hours.
6. Preheat oven to 350 and roll Tbls of dough in 1/3 c. sugar. Place on greased baking sheet, flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass, and bake 10-14 minutes. Bottoms should look light golden brown.

Hugs and cookies,

Friday, September 21, 2012


These no-bake treats will please any palate. They're crunchy and salty from the crackers, chewy from the caramel, and sweet from the chocolate topping. You can't go wrong with a sweet-salty, chewy-crunchy treat, right? Right.

As I said, these are no-bake, so the Club crackers serve as the base, as well as some of the middle layers. You might think these wouldn't have a very long fridge life (soggy crackers, anyone?), but I can reassure you on that point. These were in our fridge at least 5 days and they were just as crunchy the day we gobbled up the last bite as the day we first tried that deliciousness. (And they only lasted that long because I made them on a Thursday and we were out of town over the weekend.)

Most of these ingredients are probably ones you have on hand, which is always a bonus - I did have to go out to buy the Club crackers; I bought the reduced fat ones and they worked perfectly for me. Seriously, if you're looking for an easy treat (it's almost like candy) you should definitely give these babies a try!

Crunchers (original recipe can be found here)
80-90 Club crackers
1 c. butter
2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
2/3 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. semi-sweet chocoalte chips
1/2 c. butterscotch chips
1. Line a 13x9 pan with foil, leaving enough overhang over the sides to lift bars out when done.
2. Place one layer of crackers evenly over the bottom of the pan - cut them if they don't fit evenly. I used 30 crackers per layer and didn't have to cut them.
3. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add graham cracker crumbs, both sugars, and milk. Bring to a boil (while stirring), and boil for 5 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and spread half the mixture evenly over the crackers in the pan.
5. Place another layer of crackers over the caramel mixture, followed by the rest of the caramel.
6. Cover the top of the caramel with one more layer of crackers and refrigerate while making the topping.
7. Microwave peanut butter, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips for one minute. Stir until smooth (can microwave another 30 seconds if it's not smooth). Spread over the top of the crackers and refrigerate everything for at least an hour before cutting.
* Remove bars from pan using foil handles to make cutting and removing bars easier. Store in the refrigerator.

Hugs and cookies,


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sharing the Love

Kids change pretty much everything about your life. It's inevitable, it's unavoidable, and it's wonderful. Having that first baby is magical.

But, along with that, is the fear in the back of your mind before the baby comes of, "How is this going to affect our marriage? Will everything be harder? How will we cope with the added stress?"

And then baby comes and somehow it works. You don't love your spouse any less - your love for him or her isn't diminished because there's another person in your family to love. If anything, it's enhanced because you get to watch him transform into a parent - and that's magical, too.

Despite having gone through that family transformation with Asher, my husband and I were still nervous about how things we would change when our second little baby came. Keep in mind that Asher was only about 9 months old when we found out I was pregnant. You can probably imagine how we were feeling: how was our little, little guy going to become a big brother in just a few short months? He'd only be 16 1/2 months old by that time!

So yes, we had our concerns. And part of me was wondering how we would split our love, time, and attention between two very little boys. Asher was always my little sweetheart - he was pretty attached to me from the very beginning. And, with me being a stay-at-home-mom, he had a lot of one-on-one mommy-time (poor guy!). He was definitely spoiled in that regard, and when Dusty and I went to the hospital for me to be induced with Aiden, that was the first time I had spent the night apart from him.

Then little Aiden was born, and all of those fears and concerns vanished. It was needless worry on our part. Again, we didn't love Asher any less than we had, but we loved Aiden just as much. As parents, you don't split your love between your kids, or between your kids and your spouse; that love simply increases. Just when you think you couldn't possibly love any more than you already do, you can. And it's simple.

It makes it so much easier to understand God's love for us, and how we are created in His image. It's no difficult matter as a parent to love each of your children more than you ever thought possible, just as God, our Father, loves each and every one of His children equally and unconditionally.

So, now that we have baby #3 on the way, I have no qualms about how we'll manage to "share the love." It starts before they're even born, and continues to grow, and grow, and grow . . .

Friday, September 14, 2012

Butterscotch Pudding Triple Chip Cookies

I am a recipe-a-holic. I can't help myself. If I see a recipe for something that looks and sounds delicious (usually some type of cake/cookie/bar) I have to save it. I do that even if I already have a similar recipe that I love. Apparently the adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" doesn't apply to my recipe collection.

So . . . 

Even though I have this Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that's my all-time favorite, I couldn't resist trying these Butterscotch Pudding Triple Chip Cookies. And oh am I glad I did!

They're so good. They're especially good if you love soft, cake-like cookies. The butterscotch pudding keeps them so, so soft, and gives them a flavor different enough from traditional chocolate chip cookies to make them special. And you can't go wrong with three different types of chips in there, either! 

They don't take long to whip together and are sturdy enough to travel if you're driving in the car or want to take them to a friend. Yummmmm . . .

Butterscotch Pudding Triple Chip Cookies (recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)
1 c. softened butter
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. sugar
1 pkg. butterscotch instant pudding mix
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3 1/2 c. flour
3/4 c. white chocolate chips
3/4 c. butterscotch chips
3/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease a cookie sheet.
2. Beat together butter, both sugars, and pudding mix until thoroughly combined.
3. Scrape down bowl and beat in eggs, vanilla, salt, and baking soda.
4. Scrape down bowl again, and stir in flour until almost combined.
5. Add all three chips and mix until just combined.
6. Drop by Tbls. onto prepared baking sheet and bake 8-10 minutes, or until light golden brown around the edges.

These are delicious warm out of the oven, but don't worry, they're just as delicious when they're cool!

Hugs and cookies,

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Halfway There and I Might Be Going Insane

Today I hit the 20 week mark - hooray! In some ways I feel as though I should be a lot closer to my due date, but in others it's surreal to already be halfway there. Things have been gettin' weird lately . . .

I still have that chubby feeling, even though I'm assuming strangers would know I'm pregnant.

Sometimes, I already have trouble breathing when I lean forward - like when I'm reading a book at the kitchen table waiting for cookies to come out of the oven. It's weird. I know that happened with both of my other pregnancies, but definitely not this early. And I know I've gained about the same or less weight than with the previous pregnancies so who knows what's going on there.

After the nausea from the first trimester wore off, I started getting headaches. Every. Day. And they definitely weren't debilitating by any means, but it starts to wear on a girl when it's literally every day, and you're limited to Tylenol due to the pregnancy. When I asked my doctor about it, she said it's really common, especially during the teen weeks of pregnancy. Phew! That came as a relief, because both my husband and I were starting to feel a twinge of concern with how frequent the headaches were. And it was totally new to me since I hadn't had that with either of my previous pregnancies.

Pregnancy hormones? Oh. My. Gosh. I don't know what is going on lately. Sometimes I'm close to tears when literally nothing has happened. For instance, as I was driving back from a short shopping trip yesterday I almost started crying. There wasn't a sad song on the radio, I hadn't tried anything on so I wasn't feeling depressed about how I looked . . . Nothing had happened. And that's been happening kind of frequently. I wouldn't call myself an easy crier, so it's weird. Last night my husband wanted me to watch Taylor Swift's video for her song "Ronan", which is a true story about a 3-yr-old little boy who died of cancer. She's singing it as though she were the mom of the boy. I got about 30 seconds into it and said, "Okay, I can't watch this right now."

I think Dusty thought I might be a little crazy, but I knew I'd be bawling in a second and didn't feel like crying right then. And, we had put the boys to bed but they were upstairs being stinkers and jumping in their beds; on a normal night, I would have been annoyed that they weren't sleeping. Thinking about that song and listening to them laughing while the song was playing in the background was too much! I did listen to the song today while my hubby was at work, and sure enough I bawled almost the entire time. It's heartbreaking. If you need a good cry, there's probably no better way than to listen to that song.

On a happier note . . .
I've been feeling the baby moving a lot lately! I always love that feeling - Dusty hasn't been able to feel it yet, but I think if we caught it at the right time he'd definitely be able to.

We have our ultrasound tomorrow . . . What will it be, girl or boy?

I'm not sure what to think - at first I thought this pregnancy was pretty much identical to my previous ones aside from the headaches, but now I'm not so sure.
          - I wasn't nearly this emotional with the other two.
          - I had the linea negra (black line) faintly down my stomach, which I don't have . . . or at least not yet (I don't remember exactly when it showed up with the other two).
          - And the headaches, of course.

Anyway, I have no idea girl or boy, but am really excited to find out!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Roarin' Good Cake

When I asked our now 3-yr-old what kind of cake he wanted for his 3rd birthday, I was not expecting him to say, "A dragon!" As I tried to hide my dismay behind smiles of excitement (how on earth was I going to make a dragon of all things?!), my mind immediately went to the internet.

You can find anything on the internet these days, and sure enough I found this tutorial for how to construct a dragon cake! The design was so easy to follow as far as how to construct the dragon out of cake, and all you need are two round (8 or 9 inch) cakes.

The absolute best thing about this cake was how much Asher loved it. I mean he loved it! He kept going upstairs to look at it and would call down, saying, "Mommy, Daddy, come look at my dragon cake!" Talk about making a mom feel good. :)

I used my favorite doctored up white cake recipe, and added sprinkles to it because Asher loves sprinkles. I also used my go-to buttercream frosting and made 1 1/2 times a regular batch just to make sure I had enough.

The original tutorial used different kinds of candy than I did to make the spikes, talons, etc. and you can certainly use whatever you think will work best.

2 8-or-9-inch cakes
3-4 cups buttercream frosting, tinted the colors you like (I did blue and green)
Starburst candy
Chewy Spree
1 large marshmallow
2 fruit roll-ups (I used the tie-dye kind)
4 chocolate chips
2 skewers
candles (I found those crazy squiggle ones at Hy-Vee)
a large cutting board, or some other flat surface to use as the cake base

1. Cut the dragon out using the tutorial link above.
2. Secure each piece to your cake base using a dollop of frosting, and also secure the cake pieces together using frosting (this helps the pieces from separating after you've finished frosting it).
3. To frost the cake you can either slather the frosting all over and then use some type of round bottle cap and make indentations for scales, or you can do what I did. Fill a plastic baggy with frosting and snip off the end. Pipe a line of dots (about 1/4-1/2 inch big) straight across the top of the body. Use a spoon and lightly press into one dot at a time and pull down gently. Pipe the next row of dots close enough to the first to not see cake in between (I alternated my blue and green colors). Continue doing this until the entire dragon is covered with frosting. *Don't be discouraged if it doesn't look perfect - some of those angles are tough, and some of those spaces are hard to get to with piping. The end result will still look good!
4. For the spikes along the spine, slightly flatten the Starburst and cut in half diagonally into triangles. Insert each triangle into the dragon spine and down the tail.
5. Use Sprees and insert them vertically into the dragon's feet.
6. Snip the marshmallow in half horizontally and press each half onto the face for eyes. You can either use black icing to make the pupils, or insert a chocolate chip into each so the round part is facing out.
7. Use 2 chocolate chips to form the nostrils.
8. Insert candles into the snout to look like fire.
9. Wrap fruit roll-ups around each skewer and stick it to itself. Then insert each skewer into the cake to make the wings - you may need to cut the skewers to fit (you can scallop the edges of the fruit roll-ups just by using a scissors).

Look out, he's breathing fire!

It looked good, but does it taste good . . . 
The official verdict was a resounding, "YES!" :)
Hugs and cookies,


Thursday, September 06, 2012

No-Bake Biscoff Granola Bars

If you're looking for an easy treat to fix for your kiddos (and let's face it, who isn't), I think you'll absolutely love this recipe! It's kid and adult friendly, and can be adapted to fit your tastes really easily.

My boys love granola bars, and I've been searching for an easy recipe that I could whip up for them. I wanted them to be chewy vs. crunchy because it's easier for them to eat . . . And to be honest, that's what I prefer too, and it's inevitable that I'll be snacking on these too. :)

The recipe calls for Biscoff spread, which has the consistency of peanut butter, but the flavor is totally different. I've been seeing it pretty regularly at Walmart, Hy-Vee, and Target, so hopefully you can find it on your shopping shelves. If not, I'd substitute peanut butter. Feel free to sprinkle some chocolate chips on top, or stir in some dried fruit or nuts if you want. I stuck to the recipe as-is, minus the chocolate chips and chopped Biscoff cookies because the boys hold it in their hands and then it melts and then it gets on everything and then I have to clean it up (that wasn't a run-on sentence or anything was it?).

If I was making them for myself, I'd definitely add chocolate because I'm a chocoholic. But they're delicious without it, too - they're easy to store, and easy to bring on trips which is an added bonus!

No-Bake Biscoff Granola Bars (original recipe can be found here)
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. Biscoff spread
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. quick oats
1 c. rice krispies
1. Line an 8x8 inch pan with parchment paper.
2. Place butter, brown sugar, honey, and Biscoff in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until boiling. Boil 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, oats, and krispies. Spread in prepared pan and allow to cool before cutting.
*If you're traveling, wrap individual granola bars in plastic wrap to make it easy to pass out to the kiddos.

Hugs and cookies,


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Potty Training: SUCCESS!

About 2 weeks before Asher's 3rd birthday, I decided it was time to potty train hard core. As in, no quitting until we got the hang of it. I was imagining my life as endless days of changing dirty diapers once #3 comes along in late January, and I was not pleased by that thought. Enter potty-training mode.

At first, I put Asher in underwear that's a little thicker than regular underwear so it would absorb more pee, but definitely didn't feel like a diaper. He was in those and shorts. I took him to sit on the potty about every half hour, and he would sit on there for 20-30 minutes each time. And he still wouldn't pee in the potty. He just peed in his underwear and didn't even seem to notice!

After a day and a half of that, I decided maybe just underwear would do the trick, no shorts. And then, I tried no underwear and just shorts. Neither worked. We had a few successful potty trips, but he would just pee in his underwear or shorts unless he happened to be sitting on the potty at the time.

I was beyond frustrated - I think it was day three with no major success to note. Now, don't get me wrong, I  was fully prepared to clean up accidents around the house, but it was like he was just not getting it. And I was at my wits' end trying to figure out what else to do with him because I was not about to give up at that point!

The next morning, right after he woke up and we got downstairs I took his diaper off and his jammy bottoms. So he was naked from the waist down; but when he peed like that, it really bothered him. He would call me downstairs or I would hear him crying and he said, "Mommy, I pee-hee-heed." I viewed that as progress because before that he really didn't care one way or the other - it was like I  had to be the one to discover that he had had an accident. But, later that morning after having had an accident and me saying, "Okay, if you have to pee just come tell Mommy so we can go on the potty" . . . I heard this magical sentence: "Mommy! Mommy! I have to pee!" So we ran upstairs, sat on the potty, and wonder of wonders, he did it!

When I talked to my husband during his lunch break that day I told him I just didn't have any bottoms on Asher and it seemed to be working. When he got home from work that day he said, "Um, did you know Asher doesn't have anything on right now? Not even underwear?" He thought I meant he was just in underwear . . . I guess it was a surprising sight. :)

Anyway, that was really the turning point. He spent about three days half-naked, and we spent almost an entire week home. Inside the house. I think we were all going stir-crazy. But, it worked! Once it dawned on Asher what it felt like when pee was coming and that he didn't want to pee all over himself, he really progressed quickly.

He still has an accident very rarely, and we're still trying to figure out how to get him to poop on the potty (he tends to wait until naps or bedtime when he's in diapers before he poops). But, most of the time he'll even go through naptime and all through the night and his diaper will be completely dry in the morning!

*We also bribed him with treats if he went on the potty - just as an added excitement and motivator to get him to do it. I really don't feel guilty about doing that - it's only for a few days, and it's something he understands.

**My husband and I tried showing him how we do it to encourage him, and although he got excited for us (yay, us!) it didn't seem to help him.

***I also discovered that even though he liked us to wait in the bathroom with him, he would never actually go until we stepped out for a couple minutes to do something else or check on something.

Anyway, I'm thrilled with his progress, and although the process isn't complete, it's so wonderful to have him in underwear!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice . . . That's What Cinnamon Rolls Are Made Of!

I can't believe I haven't posted on cinnamon rolls, yet! My very first job (as a 7th or 8th grader, I can't remember now) was making homemade cinnamon rolls every Friday morning for the little grocery store in our tiny town. Does that mean I can list professional baker on my resume? ;)

I suppose I haven't written a post about cinnamon rolls yet because I don't allow myself to make them very often. I don't like the boys to eat a ton of them, and for some reason Dusty doesn't eat many (if any) either, so then I just keep eating, and eating, and eating them. Until they're gone. Then I refuse to let myself make them again for quite a while. My jeans thank me, my mouth does not.

But, Mr. Birthday Boy, Asher, asked for them for his birthday, and I gladly obliged! It made me so happy, too, because I always asked my mom for cinnamon rolls for my birthday - she's the queen of cinnamon rolls. And the best part? She always let me take one right from the middle when they were fresh out of the oven . . . I love the ones in the middle - the softest, gooiest, no-edge ones. Heavenly.

This recipe is a Cinnabon copycat, and it comes pretty darn close. The rolls are gooey with plenty of cinnamon-y filling, and the frosting is aaaaaaamazing. The dough is a dream to work with - it doesn't stick to everything, yet still stays soft and tender after it's baked.

Cinnabon-Style Cinnamon Rolls (original recipe can be found here)
1 pkg. dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1 c. warm milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. margarine or butter
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt
4-4 1/2 c. flour
1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk (about 5 minutes).
2. Add sugar, butter, eggs, and salt and mix well.
3. Using the hook attachment, add the flour and knead about 3 minutes, until dough pulls away from sides of the bowl. (Alternately, you can knead the dough by hand, about 5-8 minutes, or until it comes together in a nice ball).
4. Place dough in a large, greased bowl, and cover with a cloth. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. In the meantime, make the filling and frosting.
1 c. brown sugar
2 1/2 Tbls. cinnamon
1/3 c. margarine or butter, softened
1. Mix together brown sugar and cinnamon.
2. When dough is ready, roll into an 11x18 rectangle (make sure your surface is floured so the dough doesn't stick).
3. Spread softened butter over dough, and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Press cinnamon-sugar into butter so it sticks.
4. Starting with the long side, start rolling the dough toward you, trying to keep it in a tight roll. Pinch edge to seal it together.
5. Using plain floss, slide it under the dough, bring ends up and across each other (making an x shape), and cut down through the dough. (You can also use a knife to cut the dough, but it seems to squish out the filling. Also, you can use a knife or the floss to score the top of the dough before cutting so you know how many cuts to make - I made 16 rolls)
6. Place cut rolls on a greased baking sheet - 9x13 works well, or 11x15 if you want to give them more room. Cover with cloth and allow to rise 30 minutes.
7. Preheat oven to 375 and bake rolls for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown. Slather with frosting and devour! Best eaten warm, in my opinion. :)

1/2 c. margarine or butter, softened
1/4 c. cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
dash salt
1. Beat all ingredients together until smooth and creamy.

Here is how I used floss to score (or indent) the dough before cutting.
You know they'll be good when they look delicious before they're
even baked!
There is no better smell than fresh cinnamon rolls.
This little guy's about to be devoured by yours truly.

Ooey. Gooey. Deliciousness.
 If you have unfrosted leftovers (I like to frost mine individually unless I'm bringing them somewhere), they make the best French toast. Just slice them in half horizontally, dip in egg/milk mixture, and fry until golden brown. Yum!

Hugs and cookies,