S’mores Cookie Bars

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There is nothing quite like S’mores, they are a warm, gooey, scrumptious bite of heaven. They are without a doubt one of my most favorite desserts and they are always a crowd pleaser as well. I love this particular recipe because it makes it easy to serve them up to a bunch of people without having to make them one by one. In fact, they are so easy to make that even your kids will be able to whip these up, it’s the perfect recipe for those little budding chefs to try their hand at!

These amazing S’mores Cookie Bars comes from one of my favorite baking sites, Sally’s Baking Addiction , you can click right here to link to the original recipe. These are absolutely perfect as written, the only minor change that I made was to use bittersweet chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet because I really love dark chocolate.

Take note, when the bars are done baking, it is very important that you allow them to cool completely otherwise they will be a warm, gooey mess and very difficult to cut. However, if you don’t care about appearances, attack that pan and go crazy! I always love a nice warm S’mores so even if they have cooled and been cut, you can give them a quick zap in the microwave to warm back up. Any leftover bars will keep for about a week in a tightly covered container. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (115g) salted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (150g) packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (100g) graham cracker crumbs (about 9-10 graham crackers)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 and 1/4 cup (225g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 heaping cup marshmallow creme

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line an 8×8 or 9×9 square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving enough overhang on the sides to easily remove the bars when they have cooled. Set aside.

In a large bowl using handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar together on medium-high speed. Beat for about 2 minutes until smooth and combined, then add the vanilla extract and egg, beating until combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl down as needed. Set aside.

Toss the flour, graham cracker crumbs, and baking powder together until combined. With the mixer running on low, slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until combined.

Press 2/3 of the graham cookie dough into prepared pan. Spread the marshmallow creme on top. Sprinkle the marshmallow creme with chocolate chips. Mold the remaining cookie dough into flat pieces and layer on top of the chocolate chips. (There will not be enough dough to make one single layer so some chocolate chips will be exposed.)

Bake the bars for 25 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden brown. Allow to cool completely with the pan set on a wire rack before cutting into squares. Bars stay fresh covered tightly at room temperature for up to 1 week.

“How-To” Cooking – Chicken Cutlets

When done well, there are few foods that are quite as delicious as a crispy, golden, fried chicken cutlet. While seemingly simple to make, a few small mistakes can result in a cutlet that is soggy, lacking breading and bland tasting. Use these tips to ensure a crispy, flavorful, delicious chicken cutlet every time you make them.

The first step to great chicken cutlets is to properly prepare the meat. Ready made, thin cutlets are available in the supermarket however, they generally charge a premium for them. You can also buy chicken right from your butcher and ask them to pound it thin for you but since most people have boneless, skinless chicken breasts readily available at home, it is helpful to know how to prepare them yourself.

  • Trim the chicken – It is important to remove all of the fat, sinew and silver skin from the meat as this will allow the chicken to expand and become nice and flat.
  • Thinner is better – Pounding the chicken into thin cutlets allows the protein fibers in the meat to break down which makes the chicken more tender. For really thick pieces of chicken, it may be necessary to first slice the chicken in half horizontally before pounding. Place the chicken into a sealed plastic bag or between a piece of plastic wrap as this will keep any fragments of chicken or juice to be contained while pounding out the chicken. Aim to pound the chicken down to about a 1/4″ thick.
  • Season the meat – Unseasoned meat is bland and boring so be sure to add some seasoning before breading the cutlets. Kosher salt and ground black pepper are two great basics to use but any number of other spices (garlic salt, paprika, etc.) will all add delicious flavor to the finished cutlet.

Once the chicken is pounded thin the next step is to prepare it for frying. Proper dredging and breading are an essential component in making great chicken cutlets. If improperly executed the chicken will not hold onto to its breading, it will lack flavor and it will be greasy and soggy. The basic rule of thumb is: flour, egg, breadcrumbs in that order. The flour gives the egg something to adhere to and the egg gives something for the breadcrumbs to adhere to. They all work together to create a crispy, golden chicken cutlet.

  • Start with flour – Plain, all-purpose flour is fine to use in this step however, it can be a little bland. Add a little Kosher salt and ground black pepper to it for an extra flavor kick. Also, try cutting some of the flour with cornstarch which helps to make a crispier, crunchier cutlet. Dredge the cutlets through the flour to coat both sides.
  • Thin the egg – You don’t want to dip the cutlets into thick, gelatinous egg so thin it out first with a little water. Use about 1 tbs of water per egg and whisk until the eggs are nice and smooth. You can add more seasonings in this step as well, I like to add parsley to my egg mixture.
  • Coat with breadcrumbs – You can be creative with this step, plain breadcrumbs are a fine coating however, seasoned breadcrumbs are even better as is a mix of breadcrumbs and panko breadcrumbs which make the chicken cutlets super crunchy. Add some grated Parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs for a little extra flavor. Other things to try as a coating are crushed salted pretzels, saltine crackers or even chips such as Doritos®. I prefer a nice panko and seasoned breadcrumbs mix for my coating but you can get as creative as you like with this step.

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The last step in making chicken cutlets it to fry them up. You can bake them as well but they won’t be quite as crispy and flavorful as when they take a quick dip in some hot oil. I generally use vegetable oil when frying but any neutral oil with a high smoke point (peanut, corn etc.) will work fine too.

  • Flavor your oil – While the oil is heating up throw in a few smashed garlic cloves or some fresh herbs. This will impart delicious flavor to your cutlets as they fry up. Remove the garlic and/or herbs as soon as they start to bubble up and brown so they don’t burn and ruin the cooking oil.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan – Add the cutlets one a time to the frying oil leaving space between each one. Overcrowding the pan decreases the cooking temperature and allows too much moisture to be released which prevents browning. Fry the cutlets a few at a time allowing the oil to come back up to heat in between batches.
  • Season one last time – As soon as you remove the cutlets from the oil season them with a little Kosher salt. The heat from the cutlets will allow the salt to melt and be pulled into the meat.
  • Serve – You can serve chicken cutlets hot right out of the fryer or at room temperature. They are even really delicious the next day, cold, right from the fridge.

**NOTE** – I love to fry in my Presto® Electric Skillet. Because it is lidded it contains the splatter from frying, it frees up space on my stovetop for other things that I am cooking and cleanup is a breeze. For more information on this skillet, click here .**

Easy Homemade Granola

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Granola can be part of a healthy diet plan however, most of the versions that you find in the supermarket are loaded with sugar and are often fat laden and high in calories. This version comes from the cookbook entitled, The Everyday DASH Diet Cookbook: Over 150 Fresh and Delicious Recipes to Speed Weight Loss, Lower Blood Pressure, and Prevent Diabetes (A DASH Diet Book). The DASH Diet® has long been touted as a great way to eat in order to lower your blood pressure, prevent diabetes and change your eating habits over to a more healthy way of living. It’s not so much a diet as it is a healthy lifestyle change which most of us could benefit from.

My husband was diagnosed with excessive hypertension in his early 20’s and has been on medication ever since. In his case it is genetic however, the DASH Diet® is still a great way for him to keep his blood pressure under control. For myself, having had gestational diabetes and now the start of Type 2 diabetes it is beneficial to me as well to follow a healthier eating plan. I’m looking forward to including healthier recipes such as this into our eating plan for 2019 as it will benefit both my husband and I and our two children.

This granola, while very yummy, is not like what you are used to from the store so it might take a little getting use to. It’s not overly sweet since with most of the sweetness coming from the dried fruit. That being said, if you do prefer a sweeter granola you can always add more sugar, honey or even maple syrup to get that added sweetness. Granola is a great topping for yogurt or served as a cold cereal with a little bit of lowfat milk added to it. The nice thing about this granola is that you can customize it however you wish. Try out different dried fruits such as apples, dates, or pineapples, play around with the spices as well and even add a handful of nuts or sunflower seeds to it. Find the flavor combination that is best for you. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbs water
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pure maple syrup or pure vanilla extract
  • 4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped apricots

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 300ºF.

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, water, oil, cinnamon and flavoring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the oats and mix until lightly coated. Spread evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper.

Bake, stirring occasionally bringing the toasted oats towards the center of the pan, until the oats are evenly crisp, about 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir in the raisins and apricots. Let the granola cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Making Snack Time Fun

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(Pictured above –  A Crazy Taco, Chef Waffle and the Dabbing Apple)

My son is in Kindergarten and he’s required to bring his snack in a bag that is separate from his lunch. In the beginning of the year I would just toss his snack in a bag and write his name on the front but he complained that it was “so boring”. So then I started to draw quick, simple pictures on the front with a black marker or pen and for a while that was cool with him. But then one day I was in the mood to color and decided to start making his brown bags a little more fun and interesting and once I started, there was no going back!

I am by no means an artist or really even someone who can draw however, I consider myself to be a pretty decent “copycat“. I can look at most simple pictures and sketch them out but if you handed me a piece of paper and asked to come up with something on my own I’d really struggle. What I love about making these snack bags is that number one, it makes my little guy so happy but for myself, it’s just a nice relaxing activity. I enjoy the peaceful quiet and coloring when my kids are at school and I have some uninterrupted time to myself. Coloring makes you slow down, de-stress and relax which is why adult coloring books and apps have become so popular over the years. That being said, making the snack bags is also a fun activity to do with your kids as well. A lot of times they will be doing their own coloring or craft projects at the table and I’ll pull up a seat and work on the bags. They love sitting side-by-side while we all color, it’s great bonding time. We color, we chat, we giggle and we just have fun.

For some cute ideas on what to draw, think of the things your own kids like and do a Google® search but the add the word “cartoon” in front of whatever it is you’re searching for. For example, my son wanted me to draw him a waffle so I did a search for “cartoon waffle“. The images that come up are so much cuter and easier to draw than a standard image. You can find almost anything in a colorful cartoon version. My kids got a Nintendo® Switch for Christmas so right now I am working on characters from the Mario Brothers games and my most favorite character of all time, Yoshi. I can’t wait to see how those turn out! Check out the pics below to see some of the other snack bags that I made for my son over the last few weeks. Enjoy!

The Christmas Collection

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Kid’s Choice – The little blue guy is a character my son created named “Rock Boy”

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Mickey Mouse – I made this one the day before we were leaving for Disney World®

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Little Reindeer and his favorite squishie toy named, “Cubby”

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Squishie Toys and a Creepy Monster

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Mario Bros. Characters

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yoshi

mario

Cozy Chicken Pot Pie

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There is nothing quite like a steaming hot Chicken Pot Pie to warm the soul. It is one of the quintessential comfort foods and the perfect to meal to serve on a cold winter night. It might surprise you to know that making a Chicken Pot Pie from scratch is actually easier than you think. A few basic ingredients and just a few minutes of your time and you’ll have this on the dinner table in no time!

This recipe, which is my all time favorite, comes from the Epicurious website, click here to check it out online. The great thing about a pot pie is that you have the flexibility to play around with the filling and the spices to create a flavor profile that suits your palette. You can substitute turkey for the chicken, add in more veggies, change-up the vegetables and so on and so forth. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I do not care for mushrooms so I leave them out of my pot pie. Instead I use diced Yukon Gold potatoes, a bit of sliced celery and if I have them in the house, I love pearl onions over regular diced onion. I also use a nice chicken stock instead of broth as I find the flavor to be far richer and more complex than that of chicken broth. Kitchen Basics® is my favorite brand but any stock will work just as well. For an even creamier base, add a touch of cream to the stock once it’s thickened. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 package (17.3 ounces) puff pastry sheets, thawed
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 3 medium onions, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp dried thyme leaves or 1 tbs minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3 cups cubed cooked chicken
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

Heat the oven to 400°F. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a 12-inch square. Press the pastry into a 2-quart round casserole. Trim the excess pastry. Prick the pastry thoroughly with a fork. Place aluminum foil onto the surface of the pastry. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil after baking.

While the puff pastry bakes, heat the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots, onions and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender-crisp, stirring occasionally. Add the flour and cook and stir for 3 minutes or until the flour is golden brown. Slowly stir in the broth and heat to a boil. Cook and stir until the mixture boils and thickens.

Stir in the mustard, thyme, black pepper, chicken, peas and 3 tablespoons parsley. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Unfold the remaining pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut the pastry sheet crosswise into 6 (1 1/2-inch thick) strips.

Spoon the chicken mixture into the casserole. Weave a lattice pattern over the filling with the pastry strips. Trim any excess pastry. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley. Place the casserole onto a baking sheet.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the filling is hot and bubbling and the pastry is golden brown. Serve hot.

**Note – While a lattice topped pot pie is very pretty you can save yourself time by simply placing the whole puff pastry sheet on top of the pot pie as seen above. Crimp the edges and cut 2-3 vent slits in the pastry and bake as directed.**

 

Banana Walnut Muffins

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Fresh, warm muffins are always a big hit (especially with my children) and because they are so easy to make, there is no excuse to keep using those boxed versions which are filled with additives and chemicals. With just a few basic ingredients you can have a warm batch of muffins ready to be served with your Sunday morning breakfast. Make a double batch and once they are completely cooled, freeze them so that you will always have homemade muffins on hand. A quick defrosting in the microwave and it’s like they were baked fresh that day! Also, because this is such an easy recipe to follow, it’s the perfect recipe for your little budding chefs to try their hand at.

This recipe comes from a great cookbook that was put out by Williams-Sonoma entitled, “Muffins“. Sadly, it is no longer in print but you can borrow it from your local library or buy it on Amazon from 3rd party sellers. I was able to find a copy in great condition for only a few dollars. If you’re fortunate enough to come across a copy, other noteworthy recipes from this cookbook are the Chocolate Chip Muffins, Cranberry Orange Muffins and Vanilla Pear Muffins. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz/235 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (6 oz/185 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (3 ox/90 grams) walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) canola oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 2-3 medium sized very ripe bananas, slightly mashed to yield 1 1/4 cups (10 oz.315 grams)
  • 3 tbs buttermilk

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Grease a standard muffin pan with cooking spray or use paper liners.

In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, chopped walnuts, baking soda and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the oil, egg, mashed bananas and buttermilk until blended. Add the dry ingredients and beat well until evenly combined and creamy.

Spoon the batter into each muffin cup filling it level with the rim of the cup.

Bake until golden, dry and springy to the touch, about 20-25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin should come out clean. Transfer the muffin pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and place them on  the wire rack to continue to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 muffins.

 

 

Boeuf Bourguignonne (Beef Burgundy)

beef burgundy

When winter finally makes it arrival all I crave is warm, cozy comfort food. Boeuf Bourguignonne, also known as Beef Burgundy, is a classic French dish that is rich, savory and soul warming and it is one of my favorite dishes on a cold winter night. It is cooked low and slow in red wine and beef stock which makes for a deep, flavorful stew. As the dish simmers, the alcohol will burn away leaving behind a rich, complex flavor. Beef Burgundy originated in the Burgundy region of France so as you would expect, a nice Burgundy wine works well in this dish. Other good choices are a Beaujolais, Pinot Noir or any other French red wine from that area.

I came across this particular recipe a few years ago in a publication by Paula Deen entitled, “Cooking With Paula Deen“. (November 2013, Vol. 9 Issue 6) She calls for mushrooms however, as I don’t care for them I chose to leave them out. Also, she recommended adding the carrots in the last 30 minutes of cooking but I find in that short of a time the carrots do not soften and you’re left with hard, crunchy pieces which is not what you want in this dish. Therefore, I like to add them in with the beef, wine, stock and spices and allow them to simmer for the full 2.5 hours, I find the texture is much better with the extra cooking time.

Unlike a traditional stew where you cook chunks of potatoes with the meat and other vegetables, this dish is served over mashed potatoes . I like to take it one step further and serve them over garlic mashed, I love the extra flavor it adds to this dish. For instructions on making garlic mashed potatoes, see the note at the bottom of my Homemade Mashed Potatoes recipe. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 lbs chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 (14.4 ounce) bag frozen pearl onions
  • 1 (8 ounce) package sliced baby portobello mushrooms, optional
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 (32 ounce) carton beef stock
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 carrots, cut into 1″ chunks
  • 1 cup frozen peas

Instructions

In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper.

Add the beef to the pan and cook until browned on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, remove the beef and set aside. Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes or until tender. Return the beef to the pan with the stock, wine, carrots, thyme and bay leaves.

Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 2 hours. Add the frozen peas and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes more.

Serve over Homemade Mashed Potatoes

 

Cacio e Pepe Pasta (“Cheese and Black Pepper” Pasta)

cacio e pepe pasta

When my days are hectic and busy there is nothing I appreciate more than a quick and easy dinner. This Italian dish, which translated means “cheese and pepper“, is especially great because you don’t even need to boil the water first, you simply add the dry pasta right to a pan, cover with a little cold water and cook! The sauce is also a cinch to make and it consists of basic ingredients that are readily available in almost every home.

This recipe is right from one my favorite chefs, Alton Brown. He does such a great job of explaining the science behind cooking and then he follows up with easy step-by-step directions to create a yummy meal. You can find his original recipe right here . I followed the recipe exactly as written the first time but in subsequent makings, I adjusted down the amount of ground black pepper that is called for. I absolutely love pepper and I put it on everything but I did find that a 2 full tablespoons of pepper was a bit intense and overwhelming, especially for my kids. So I cut that back to only a tablespoon the next few times I made it. My advice is to start with just a small amount and then adjust accordingly as you cook. You can always add more if needed however, it is impossible to take it away once it’s been added. For a more hearty meal you can toss in some sliced grilled chicken or vegetables but it really is a wonderful dish simply as is.

One last note, I have found that the often times the cooking water simmers away before the pasta is finished cooking. If you notice the water getting too low, do not be afraid to add more to the pan, just get it back to a simmer quickly.  You will need at least 3/4 cup of the water to create the cheese sauce so don’t let your pan run dry, keep an eye on your water level. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dry spaghetti
  • 2 tbs Kosher salt
  • 1-2 tbs ground black pepper
  • 3 oz Pecorino-Romano cheese, finely grated 
  • 1 1/2 oz  Parmesan, finely grated 
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 to 1 cup starchy pasta water

Instructions

Add the dry pasta to a straight sided sauté pan then add the salt and just enough cold water to cover the pasta. Cover and set over medium-high heat.

When the water reaches a boil, remove the lid and decrease heat to medium to maintain a simmer. Stir the pasta every minute or so making sure the ends of the noodles stay submerged and that they aren’t sticking together.

While the pasta cooks, begin the sauce. Combine 1-2 tbs of ground black pepper, the Pecorino, all of the Parmesan and the olive oil in a large, deep mixing bowl. Work ingredients together with the back of a wooden spoon until a thick paste forms.

When the pasta has been simmering for 5 minutes, ladle 1 cup of the hot cooking water into a measuring cup then slowly drizzle 3/4 cup into cheese paste, mixing until smooth.

After the pasta has been cooking for 10 minutes start checking for doneness, you want it to be just barely “al dente” as there will be some carryover cooking in the next step.

Use tongs to lift the pasta out of the cooking water and allow to briefly drain before adding to the cheese paste. Grasp the pasta with the tongs and stir vigorously for 2 minutes (really use a lot of elbow grease here — this is not a light toss). The pasta will continue to release starch and the sauce will emulsify. Around a minute thirty you will see cheesy water magically transform into a proper sauce. If you find your sauce clumping, add a bit more of the pasta water and continue working the pasta.

Portion pasta into 4 bowls, top with a sprinkle of extra grated cheese and ground black pepper and serve hot.

Hard Cider and Brown Sugar Chicken

cider chicken

You guys, this was SO good! I mean REALLY good! There was so much flavorful, rich, sticky, yummy goodness. The best part? It’s so ridiculously easy to prep that you will have it all ready to go within in minutes. Bonus, it cooks quickly too so you’ll have dinner on the table in no time! I served the chicken with my Easy Peasy Seasoned Rice and steamed green beans.

I absolutely LOVE the New England region of this country so it’s no surprise that one of my most favorite cookbooks is from a true New England girl, Jessica Robinson. This recipe comes right from her cookbook entitled: New England Farmgirl: Recipes & Stories from a Farmer’s Daughter. It’s a really awesome cookbook filled with easy to make comfort food. I followed the recipe exactly however, instead of slicing the chicken into strips I chose to slice my chicken breasts and pound them thin. To cook them all evenly and at the same time I used my Presto 06852 16-Inch Electric Skillet with Glass CoverThis inexpensive skillet is worth having in your kitchen, click here , to read more about why I consider this appliance a kitchen “must-have”. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup hard apple cider
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbs molasses
  • 2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1-2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp ground mustard
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil

Instructions

Place the cider, brown sugar, molasses, salt, pepper, mustard and paprika into a large bowl or Ziploc® bag and mix until well combined. Add the chicken and allow to marinate for 2-4 hours.

Warm the oil and butter over medium heat. Add the chicken to the skillet and discard any remaining marinade. Cook the chicken for about 4-5 minutes per side or until cooked through. Remove from the pan and allow to rest on a plate for a few minutes. Drizzle with any remaining glaze from the pan. Serve hot.

 

“Elf on the Shelf” – Helpful Ideas to Make this Annual Tradition More Fun

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He’s almost baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!! The thought of this little guy making his appearance every year seems to strike fear and dread in the hearts of so many parents across the country. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t need to be such a miserable chore, In fact, I really love when our little “Hermie” makes his way back to our home. With just a little planning, a dash of creativity and a positive mindset this tradition can be not only fun, but something you actually look forward to year after year.

FIRST THINGS FIRST – CUT YOUR “ELF SELF” SOME SLACK

Nothing is fun when it starts to feel a like chore. So cut yourself some slack and don’t try to do too much or do everything perfectly. Regardless of what you think, you aren’t in competition with everyone else. So if having a North Pole Breakfast is too much for you, skip it. It you love being creative, go crazy with the mischief. If you barely want to do this tradition at all, do the bare minimum. Look, there is no ONE way to handle this elf and every mom and dad needs to what is best for them. In the end, this is just supposed to be fun and not a source of stress and anxiety. So follow these simple tips to keep your sanity this holiday season.

  • Don’t overdo it! You don’t need to do a big, elaborate setup for your elf every single day. Pace yourself and on most days, keep it simple. Sprinkle in just a few extra special setups here and there.
  • Use what you have around the house! Don’t make yourself crazy buying accessories for the elf, use what you already have. Take advantage of craft supplies, your kids toys, what’s in your pantry, etc.
  • Avoid elf mishaps, place him up high! Keep the elf high instead of within your kids easy reach. Countertops, wall units bartops, on top of furniture, etc. are all good places to place your elf. Avoid the floor, if possible, unless it’s in a room you aren’t often in or you know for sure your kid won’t be tempted to touch him.
  • Need ideas? Pinterest is a wealth of great information. You will find a ton of wonderful Elf on the Shelf® ideas there. Also, Google® is your friend, when you need some inspiration in a pinch, a quick search will provide you with everything you need.
  • Have fun! This isn’t suppose to be a miserable experience so try to have a little fun with it. Remember, the belief in Christmas magic is fleeting and before you know it your children won’t believe anymore. So take advantage while they are little and enjoy this magical time with them.
WELCOME BACK – NORTH POLE BREAKFAST

As we approach Thanksgiving, preparations are well underway for our annual, “North Pole Breakfast“. This is a very special breakfast that we have the day after Thanksgiving to welcome back our little elf. We have been doing this tradition for years now and it’s something that both of my children eagerly look forward to. Not only are they excited to see the elf but it’s a fun and festive way to officially kick off the holiday season!

norht pole bfast

On Thanksgiving night, after the kids are asleep, I get to work. I decorate the kitchen, put out the elf and elf pets and prep breakfast. Some easy and delicious things to make for breakfast and which can be prepared ahead of time are: Bacon and Cheddar Quiche , French Toast Casserole , and even Ooey Gooey Cinnamon Rolls . Another super cute idea, which is easier than making your own, is to buy store-bought Pillsbury® Cinnamon rolls and assemble the baked rolls on a platter in a Christmas tree shape. Tint the white icing with a little green food dye and sprinkle the “tree” with festive Christmas sprinkles. Other cute ideas for breakfast are white powdered doughnut holes otherwise known as, “snowballs” and mini muffins or as we like to call them, “elf muffins“. I also give them “jingle juice” which is any red colored beverage served in small, inexpensive milk bottles that I found at Michael’s®. I top them off with cute a Christmas colored straw. I always put out candy canes on the table and a few small Christmas chocolates as well. Get as creative as you would like for your breakfast but remember, do as much in advance as possible because your kids will wake up excited and ready to party in the morning so the less cooking you need to do that day, the better.

I know a North Pole Breakfast might sound like a lot but everything you see pictured above are Christmas things I already had in the house OR things I purchased for cheap at the Dollar Store and use year after year. The Dollar Store is a great place to pick up cute things to use at the breakfast. They have a nice assortment of holiday paper goods, Christmas tins and baskets, elf themed decorations, tablecloths, elf hats, gift bags and more! On the backs of my chairs I place these adorable “Santa hats” that just slide over the chair and make everything look even more festive. The best part? They were just $1/each! Once you have all of your goodies pulled together, you’re ready to go every year!

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Create an “elf bin“. I bought an inexpensive storage tote at Target and that is where I keep all of my decorations for the North Pole Breakfast along with our elf, elf pets, letters, and little goodies from the elf to the kids. It makes coordinating the elf’s return so much easier because everything that I need for a successful holiday season is all contained in one box which I keep in front of all the other Christmas boxes. A few years ago I typed up both my “Welcome Back” and “Goodbye” letters from Hermie and I keep multiple copies of each in the storage box and reuse the same typed letters every year. Trust me on this one, my daughter who is 10 years old with a memory like an elephant, still has never even realized that the letters are the same year after year. Having them ready to go saves you a lot of time and effort.

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Another tradition that we have at our North Pole Breakfast is that each of my children receive a gift from the elf. I don’t go overboard, just a few cute things to get them in the Christmas spirit. They each have an Elf on the Shelf® themed gift bag that I fill with chocolate Santa lollipops, holiday PEZ dispensers, coloring books, Christmas word searches, little notepads and pencils, Christmas themed Chapstick® and other cute things I find in the dollar section. In addition, every year they each get a special ornament chosen just for them to place on the Christmas tree. Sometimes I get them personalized ones but often I try to find an ornament that is meaningful to them in some way whether it’s a favorite hobby, character, toy etc. I love looking back at these ornaments every year and the kids get so excited to have a new and special ornament to hang on the tree. You don’t have to spend a lot, a few little things are all it takes to make them happy that morning and they really love getting a gift from their special elf.

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Lastly, no North Pole Breakfast would be complete without adorable matching Christmas pajamas! You can find so many cute choices at children’s clothing stores or even at Target or Walmart for cheap. I always give them their pj’s on Thanksgiving night because I love having pictures of them in the morning in their cute, festive, coordinated pajamas.

ELF BUSINESS

First things first, it’s time to remind your children of the rules. A good way to do that is to reread to them the book that came with your elf. Remind them that the elf’s magical powers only work if they don’t touch him. They can look at him, talk to him, show him things but “no touchy”! This reminder really makes your job easier because the last thing you want is for the kids to touch the elf, he falls down and then looks like some lifeless, splattered toy on the floor. You want to keep up the allusion and for the elf to stay put in whatever scene or mischief you create for him so the easiest way to achieve that is if the kids are reminded to just leave him alone.

Let’s face it, this elf has a job to do and that’s to keep our kids in line until the big day arrives. What good would the elf be if he didn’t give any status updates? I found this cute Daily Elf Report plaque at a nearby home store for less than $3. No matter where our elf shows up in the house, this little plaque is right nearby so the kids can see if they are behaving or need to do a little better. If you cannot find one of these, make your own reusable little sign. Anything that can give the kids a quick update will work fine, even a basic small white board will do.

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On the rare occasion I need to check off “naughty” I also leave a written “Elf Report” so that they know what behaviors they need to work on. You can find a ton of these cute little printables right online. This one below is my favorite, click here to print out your own.

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Sometimes our elf likes to leave them a treat which is usually coordinated with whatever mischief he created the previous night. Again, the dollar sections in stores are a great place to pick up fun items such as Elf on the Shelf® themed toys, coloring books, Christmas candy and other cute little things. A fun gift to leave every so often is one of the “elf couture” outfits available for both the elf and elf pets. My kids get a kick out of these!

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Occasionally the elf will leave them edible treats as well, such as special Christmas cookies, candies or the makings for hot chocolate. On the first on December he always brings them their chocolate advent calendars which my kids LOVE! They have so much fun counting down to Christmas and being able to eat a sweet treat each morning. Be as creative as you like with the gifts and treats, it really makes the whole Elf on the Shelf® experience so much more fun for them. One last tip, try to buy all of the treats and goodies at one time, store them in your elf bin and you’ll always have something on hand to pull out when you need it.

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When it comes to this Elf on the Shelf® business there is nothing more heart stopping than realizing right as your kids wake up that you FORGOT TO MOVE THE ELF!!!!! Don’t let this happen to you by simply setting a reminder on your phone for right before you go to bed. This will ensure that you never run into any problems because there is nothing worse than your kid waking up to find the elf sitting in the same place as the day before. Don’t ruin the magic, set a reminder. Oh, and should you STILL forget, make sure you have a few clever excuses up your sleeve such as, “The elf wasn’t feeling well so Santa told him to rest” or  “He broke his leg“. If you need a few more in your arsenal, click here for “25 Reasons Our Elf Didn’t Move“.

So what happens if you’re headed off on vacation this holiday season? The kids might be panicked that there elf won’t know where to find them. No worries, just bring him along. We’re going to Walt Disney World in December and I plan on tucking our elf away into one of the suitcases (carry-on, of course) and I will have him show up all around the hotel room while we’re there. I’ll keep the mischief simple and try to incorporate a little Disney magic into the fun as well. If you need a few more traveling suggestions for your elf, just click here .

Lastly, I like to photograph my elf every night, it’s a good reminder for me of the things I’ve done plus, when I am feeling stumped at night I have some inspiration to draw from. If nothing else, having the pics will be a nice reminder down the road of all the fun you had when your kids were little. Maybe one day they will carry on the tradition with their own children and those pics will come in handy!

FAREWELL ELF

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Inevitably, Christmas will roll around and it will be time to say goodbye. Our elf always leaves the kids a special plate and mug for Santa’s cookies and milk, carrots and food for the reindeer, the special Santa key so he can get into our house, a goodbye letter and his final “Naughty or Nice” report. I found these adorable Naughty and Nice cards at Target for under $3.

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It’s always sad to say goodbye to our elf because the kids have so much fun in those weeks leading up to Christmas but at least we know that he’ll always be back. On Christmas Eve, before they go to bed, they say their goodbyes and it’s the one time they are allowed to pick up the elf because he no longer needs his magic as he will be returning to the North Pole on Santa’s sleigh. They like to give him a hug, a kiss and to wish him Merry Christmas. With that, another season of The Elf on the Shelf® comes to a close.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND HAVE FUN

I hope that these tips and ideas are helpful as you embark on another season with your own Elf on the Shelf®. Please feel free to comment below and share any of your own elf ideas! I’ve done so many fun things with our elf over the years but I’ve had a few standout favorites. Check them out below and let me know what you think. Happy Holidays to all!

SOME OF MY FAVORITE ELF ON THE SHELF® IDEAS

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Feeding the Ducks

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Christmas Trivia Challenge

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Oops! Reindeer Poop

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Potato Sack Races

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Potty Time

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Hot Cocoa Break

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Zip Line Fun

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A Friendly Reminder

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Elf Sandwich………Hold the Mayo!

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Story Time with Frosty

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Phone Calls from Santa

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Christmas Melodies