The Easiest Christmas Cookies Ever

Snowflake sugar cookieAre you feeling the crunch of a long, holiday to-do list like I am? This is the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also one of the busiest. Last weekend, our family crammed in shopping and other errands, a Christmas parade, church, buying/picking out/decorating a Christmas tree, baking cookies for and attending a Mother-Daughter Cookie Swap, not to mention watching the SEC Championship Football Game. All of these things were enjoyable and important to us, but they made for a very full schedule.

When it came time to bake cookies for the Cookie Swap we were attending, I opted for two low-stress recipes. If you’re planning on baking cookies for the holidays, you might want to try them, too.

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First, we made traditional Christmas sugar cookies. It’s become an annual tradition for our family and the girls love to decorate them. Confession: Against every ounce of foodie that I have in my being, I bought pre-made dough this year. The Pillsbury sugar cookie dough that comes in a tube. Sigh.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I must say it actually worked out pretty well. The longer the dough was out of the refrigerator, the easier it was to roll out onto parchment paper, so keep that in mind if you are trying this at home. We used a snow flake cookie cutter I bought a while back for my Frozen-obsessed four-year-old and a heart-shaped cookie cutter, because all of my traditional Christmas cookie cutters were packed away with all the decorations we hadn’t yet brought out of storage. We made a few round cookies, too. Once we baked the cookies according to the package directions, we let them cool. When it was safe to ice them, we used homemade icing (recipe here), plus a few tubes of store-bough accent icing and assorted sprinkles to give them a finished festive look. I love the flavor that almond extract gives to the icing, and the cookies were quite tasty.

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The other cookie recipe we tried, 2-Ingredient Pumpkin Cookies, was Straight Outta Pinterest (can I get that on a T-shirt? There should be one if there isn’t). I try so many Pinterest recipes, and most of them have worked out for me. This one was almost too simple to mess up. It involved a spice cake mix (again, store bought. I don’t even know who I am anymore.) and a single can of pumpkin. I mixed these in the bowl of my stand mixer. Once these ingredients combined, I scooped out spoonfuls onto the cookie pan we were using. I did this with about half of the cookie batter. To the remaining batter, I stirred in semi-sweet chocolate chips before placing spoonfuls on the cookie pan. So we made two variations of this recipe and both baked quickly.

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Meanwhile, I mixed room-temperature butter with a packet that came in the cake mix box to make pumpkin spice icing.  We added dollops of the icing to the top of the cookies without chocolate chips. If you’re looking for a dense, crunchy cookie, these are not the cookies for you, but otherwise they are a good, foolproof option. I liked the ones with chocolate chips the best. And who doesn’t love pumpkin spice?

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So there you have it – two recipes that worked for us during a very busy weekend. The cookies were well received at the Cookie Swap and the few we had left over at home passed the ultimate test – they disappeared quickly.

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At the end of the cookie baking extravaganza, our Elf on the Shelf, Snowball, guarded the oven closely. I think she’d had enough!

What are you baking this Christmas? Do you have any holiday baking traditions? Leave a comment by clicking the link just below the headline of this post.

Also, while typing this blog post, I learned about Food Network’s Bake It Forward campaign. Share a photo of whatever you are baking this season in social media using #BakeItForward and nominate a friend. For each share, Food Network will donate $1 to No Kid Hungry.

 

 

It’s Taste of the (Pensacola) Beach Time Again

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Pensacola Beach’s annual Taste of the Beach event is Friday-Saturday, September 18-19, 2015.

Friday is a ticketed, VIP event with celebrity Chef John Besh. You may know him from his highly acclaimed New Orleans restaurants: August, Besh’s Steak House and others; or you may have seen him on one of several cooking shows on TV.

Saturday is the day to go and take the whole family. Check out the schedule of events here. Chef Besh is sure to bring an impressive showcase of culinary skills to the live stage presentation. There are surfing lessons and all sorts of activities for the kids. You can sample the best food and drinks Pensacola Beach has to offer at affordable prices, hear from Chef John Besh and even get a chance to meet him during the meet and greet. A fun 80s band, the Molly Ringwalds, closes out the evening with live music.

I wrote about my experience at last year’s Taste of the Beach. It was a lot of fun and I hope I get to make it out to the beach this weekend for round 2! Yum!

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The Hungry and The Humbled

Spaghetti noodles, canned tomatoes, a jar of peanut butter — No, this isn’t my grocery list. These everyday food items that we often toss in our shopping carts without much of a thought made a real impression on me this week.

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I was with a group visiting Manna Food Pantries, a non-profit organization that provides much needed food to hungry individuals and families living in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties in Florida. The outreach director for Manna spoke to us, explaining how bags of food are provided to eligible recipients, many of them seniors and many living in poverty. The items I mentioned above, plus some oatmeal and canned fruit and veggies, are what a typical bag of food might include — a bag of food that the recipients may have to stretch to feed their families for a week or more. She explained that the people who pack the bags — many of them volunteers — carefully select the items they place in each bag so that the recipients can actually make meals out of compatible ingredients (spaghetti with tomatoes, for example).

The night before, I’d eaten a delicious dinner with my family and later spent time online registering for StitchFix, a service that selects clothing items for you and ships them to you for you to try on, and either keep or return. The stylists who choose the clothing and accessories aim to select items for your shipment that will complement each other, or go with other basic staples you may already own. I’m still waiting for my first “fix” to arrive. I don’t know whether or how long I will continue the service, but I couldn’t help but see the parallel (and the huge divide) between the bag of food being prepared for someone in great need and the luxury of a box of clothes being sent to me. In that moment, I was truly humbled by just how much I have to be grateful for.

I also felt convicted to expose my children to Manna and the needs in our community. Right now they are too young to volunteer at Manna – I asked. Children ages 10 and up can join adults who volunteer on Saturday mornings, sorting food and assisting in the warehouse and gardens.

Manna Food Pantries Garden

I certainly understand this rule, as our three active children make a bull in a china shop seem tame. (I can just imagine cans of green beans being flung around the warehouse or dropped on toes. It isn’t a pretty picture.) But we can collect food and monetary donations for Manna and deliver them to the food pantry. Our daughters’ Girl Scout Brownie troop often looks for activities like this. We are also fortunate to have service opportunities for all ages through our church.

For all the vacationing and fun we find along the Gulf Coast, it’s important to me that we don’t turn a blind eye to the problems that exist. I want my family to contribute to a stronger community.

How do you teach your children about community service? Have you found organizations that offer opportunities for younger children to volunteer? Please leave a comment to reply.

Taste of the Beach at Pensacola Beach

crab-taste-of-the-beach The annual Taste of the Beach Festival at Pensacola Beach has been going strong for seven years. The 2014 event was my first time attending, and Taste of the Beach did not disappoint.
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The food, of course, is the main attraction. Our party sampled generous portions of Angry Pork Nachos, prepared by H20 at the Hilton Pensacola Beach, and cheeseburger sliders from Surf Burger. Each plate was just $5. For seafood lovers, there are plenty of options from fish tacos to peel-and-eat shrimp. Those wanting to cool off with a frosty beverage can choose a frozen cocktail or beer.

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Tables and chairs were set up under tents, providing a shady spot to enjoy your food and drinks as you look out over the Gulf. If you wanted to spend your day on the beach, you could easily come and go from the festival area to play in the sand and surf.

Chef Carla Hall, co-host on The Chew and former Top Chef finalist, entertained the crowd during a live cooking demonstration. She prepared gazpacho and kept the festival-goers engaged with an interactive presentation.

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One section of tents was designated as a Kids’ Area, which made it easy to corral the youngsters for face painting and sand crafts. Our only disappointment was that the snow cone station ran out of ice.

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Taste of the Beach was a nice way to spend a couple of hours and try delicious food prepared by Pensacola Beach chefs at an affordable price.