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Monster First Birthday Party

21 Apr

Even though our little guy has been toddling about for a couple of months now, we officially said goodbye to infant days when Levi turned one earlier this month {sniff sniff}. Adam and I both love that our kids were early walkers because it opens up so many new activities at the park, etc., but a little part of me was definitely sad to be done with the sweet baby phase! Here are my favorite things about Levi’s first birthday party.

  1. Theme/Invitation: I went with a monsters theme for this party after some Pinterest perusal. I was drawn to the bright colors and thought it would be easy enough to add googly eyes to everything in the house! I ordered a digital invitation from JCO Invitations and used Paperless Post for online tracking. I struggled to find an invitation that featured monsters that did not refer to the honoree as “our little monster.” For some reason, that seems like an extension of “boys will be boys” and just wasn’t the route I wanted to go.levifront2
  2. Decorations: I used the lime green, orange, and blue from the invitation as my general color palette {it really was just a happy coincidence that we had just painted an orange accent wall in our dining room}. Then I rounded up all of the monster toys we had around the house to use as table decorations and added googly eyes to anything that wasn’t moving :)20170408_160320.jpgimg_20170419_120339_723.jpgimg_20170419_121249_985.jpgimg_20170419_120645_615.jpg
  3. Fun for the kids: We were expecting quite a crowd, so I tried to set up a couple of activity stations around the house, in addition to the usual play areas. We had a Make Your Own Monster station and Pin the Eye on the Monster. We also had favor bags with monster face play dough, tattoos, stickers, and a bendable monster.img_20170419_120842_712.jpgimg_20170419_120603_280.jpgimg_20170331_170741_476.jpgimg_20170331_114651_472.jpg
  4. Sweet treats: I tried my hand at blue monster fur buttercream frosting atop chocolate cupcakes. I also made Jell-O Sugar Cookies {with the help of my favorite sous chef} and they were a surprise hit. I mostly thought they would be fun for the kids, but I saw several adults heading back for seconds as well :) Levi was a bit apprehensive when it came time to eat his first cupcake, but I think he finally finished it after 15 minutes or so!diptic-153613105.jpgimg_20170419_120446_634.jpgimg_20170419_121328_724.jpg20170408_111511.jpg
  5. Birthday boy photos: One of my favorite things that I did with both kiddos in their first year was to track growth each month using a Snuggly Swaddle doll from Designs by M Susan. It’s hard to believe how big the doll looks next to Levi in the one month photo now!1492634055969.jpg

As usual, the best part of the whole thing, was being surrounded by friends and family who came from as close as next door and as far as South Florida. Our little boy sure is well-loved {as is our whole family}.img_20170401_222551_217.jpg


It’s his party and he’ll cry if he wants to…


Why I Love To Bake {Happy Father’s Day!}

15 Jun

We recently had some unexpected house guests, and I found myself in need of a quick and easy dessert recipe. Normally I would hit the baking blogs at this point, but this time I found myself reaching for an old, trusted friend instead – the chocolate chip cookie recipe from my KitchenAid mixer cookbook. There’s nothing too special about this recipe on the surface. It’s so simple that I should really know it by heart. The cookies are delicious {especially with a glass of milk}, but not that different from any other basic chocolate chip cookie.

What makes these cookies so dear to me are the memories I have of helping my mom bake them using her KitchenAid mixer more years ago than I care to count at the moment. I know what you’re thinking – “This sounds more like a Mother’s Day post – what gives??”  – but just give me a minute, I’ll get there!

Anyway, on this particular occasion a few weeks ago, as I mixed up the familiar ingredients, I had a bit of an epiphany. I had always traced my love of baking back to my days working at a lovely little B&B in Charleston, South Carolina, but I now know that experience only helped to strengthen what was already there. That’s right, the humble beginnings of my love for baking can be found in this very chocolate chip cookie recipe.

In the discovery that my linear, little mind thrived on the precision and following of instructions that baking demands. In the patience of my mother as she let me use more flour than should ever be used as I rolled out each cookie by hand {still my preference to this day, as I never seemed to have mastered the art of dropping rounded teaspoonfuls}. In the wisdom passed down from my grandmother that, even though the recipe calls for a greased baking sheet and I wanted to follow it to a T, “a good cookie greases itself!”  I know, I know. Still sounding very much like a Mother’s Day post, but I would be remiss to leave out my mother’s hand in this!

What made these cookies so very special to me is what happened after they filled the house with the heavenly aroma of freshly-baked cookies – my dad would pour himself a glass of cold milk and dig in … always insisting that they were the best he had ever had and that no one could make them the way I could. Now, I have a sneaking suspicion that my mom could in fact follow this recipe with the same result, but my ten-year-old self believed that I really was creating some kind of culinary masterpiece each time I whipped up a batch.

All of that reminiscing got me thinking about how dads have a unique way of instilling this kind of belief in their little girls. And about how lucky I am to have a dad who has never stopped encouraging me in this way. Whether it be the latest cupcake recipe I’m trying out or a project I’m tackling at work, I know my dad will be one of my biggest cheerleaders and a great source of encouragement.

So thanks, Dad, for making this little girl believe that she can make the world a sweeter place  … one chocolate chip cookie at a time! Happy Father’s Day!

Get your chocolate fix! {Triple Chocolate Cookies}

22 Jan

So, happy New Year, everyone!  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, and that you’re excited for what’s ahead in 2012!  If one of your resolutions happens to be to eat more rich chocolate, then you’re in luck! I found this recipe for triple chocolate cookies over at Brown Eyed Baker and thought they looked too delicious to pass up. As you may know, I have a pretty serious chocolate-lover in the house, and I thought these might satisfy even his cravings!

Chewy, rich, and oh so chocolate-y!

As I was chopping 16 ounces of chocolate, I thought it might just be overkill {not to mention the entire bag of chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of cocoa powder!}, but the finished cookies were melt-in-your-mouth delicious and will definitely satisfy even the most intense chocolate cravings.  Just be warned … they’re super rich and beyond chocolate-y. The sweet aroma was even enough to make my neighbor on the plane the next day reconsider his original decision to turn down my cookie offer. The next time he saw my carry-on make an appearance, he said, “I’ll actually take a couple of cookies if you don’t mind.  They just smelled too good.” That definitely made me smile!

Here’s Brown Eyed Baker’s recipe – it was easy to follow and I made no real changes.

{Triple Chocolate Cookies}

makes about 42 cookies

  • 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup (1½ ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 16 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder
  • 10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 1½ cups packed (10½ ounces) light brown sugar
  • ½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
  • 12 ounces (about 2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips

So much chocolate!

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of almost-simmering water, stirring once or twice, until smooth; remove from the heat. {I melted mine at 50% power in 30 second increments in the microwave.} In a small bowl, beat the eggs and vanilla lightly with a fork, sprinkle the coffee powder over to dissolve, and set aside.

Either by hand or with an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 5 seconds. Beat in the sugars until combined, about 45 seconds; the mixture will look granular. Reduce the speed to low and gradually beat in the egg mixture until incorporated, about 45 seconds. Add the chocolate in a steady stream and beat until combined, about 40 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the mixer at low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Do not over-beat. Fold in the chocolate chips. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until the consistency is scoopable and fudge-like, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper {I used my new silicone baking mat and the cookies slid off like a dream – thanks, Amy!}. Scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets with a 1¾-inch ice cream scoop, spacing the mounds of dough about 1½ inches apart.

Ready to bake {thanks for the Silpat, Amy!}

Bake until the edges of the cookies have just begun to set but the centers are still very soft, about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets about 10 minutes, slide the parchment with cookies onto wire racks, and cool to room temperature. Cover one cooled baking sheet with a new piece of parchment paper. Scoop the remaining dough onto the parchment-lined sheet, bake, and cool as directed. Remove cooled cookies from the parchment with a wide metal spatula.


More Holiday Baking! {Chai Spice Cookies}

19 Dec

At this point in the year, I think everyone is already a little overloaded on sugar. There are tasty treats everywhere you turn, and it’s really hard not to indulge and just give the “oh well, it’s the holidays” excuse! That being said, I decided to contribute to the sugar rush by baking chai spice cookies for a co-worker’s birthday.

The recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens, and while I found these cookies a little on the annoying side to make, the payoff in the end was certainly worth it. One of my co-workers described them as being like that last bite of pumpkin pie where you get crust with some of the filling still on it – crisp and buttery with all of those warm spice flavors.  I think that sums it up pretty well, so if that description has your mouth watering; these cookies are for you!

Perfect afternoon snack - chai tea with chai spice cookie {how very meta}

I guess I’ve grown pretty accustomed to making cookies that you can simply roll into balls by hand, so the concept of constantly flouring every surface and rolling out extremely sticky dough seemed a bit much {or maybe I just need some practice!}. Once I was over this initial frustration, I was able to appreciate how adorable little chai spice boys and girls can be!

Here’s the recipe as it reads on BHG with my only change being to roll the dough out a little thinner {yielding close to twice as many cookies as the recipe indicates with a little crispier consistency}. I also opted not to decorate mine with powdered sugar icing.

{Chai Spice Cookies}

  • 2 spiced chai-flavored tea bags
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons molasses

Remove tea bag contents (3 teaspoons); discard bags. In medium bowl combine tea, flour, and pumpkin pie spice; set aside.

In large mixing bowl beat butter on medium to high 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks and molasses. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can; stir in remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover and refrigerate about 3 hours or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper. On lightly floured surface, roll half of the dough at a time until 1/4-inch thickness {mine was more like 1/8-inch thickness}. Cut dough with 4-inch gingerbread girl cutters {or whatever shapes you want!}.

Bake 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheets 2 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely. Makes 18 to 20 cookies {I’d say I had closer to 40 cookies when it was all said and done}.


Feeling festive {Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies}

13 Dec

This past Friday, we kicked off the holiday party season with our neighbors.  It was a low-key potluck in the nearby community center; but the great turnout, delicious food, and good company made for a very festive occasion.  I was surprised {overjoyed} to see that most people opted to bring savory dishes in the potluck sign-up, so I seized the opportunity to bake lots and lots of cookies and cupcakes!

Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies

I tried one new cookie recipe that I found on two peas & their pod via i am baker’s Seven Seriously Sweet Cookies post. There were quite a few recipes I wanted to try {alright, alright. all seven}, but I decided the Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies would be the perfect addition to our holiday party!

I also discovered that if I say I’m going to bake cookies, I might as well go ahead and pick up the ingredients for Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chip Pretzel Cookies as well; because Adam will definitely be requesting them. And I quote, “I never thought I’d be the kind of guy to have a favorite cookie, but this is it.”  {cute}

You can get out some of your holiday stress crushing candy canes!

Now for my thoughts on the chocolate peppermint crunch cookies.  I was a little skeptical when I first took them out of the oven as they kind of had the consistency of underdone brownies {which is not always a bad thing}. But once they had plenty of time to cool I was much happier. They were kind of like thin brownies with a nice crispiness on the outside and a minty crunch on the inside.

I didn’t make any changes to the original recipe that follows, other than to use two more candy canes than it calls for.  Also, I usually ignore any instructions to grease or line a cookie sheet because for some reason I always hear my Grandma Petersen saying “a good cookie greases itself” in my head, but I did line my baking sheet this time, and I’m glad I did.  Not only did this sticky dough really need the time to chill in the fridge in order to handle it, it also seemed like it would have been hard to get out of the pan had I not used parchment paper.

{Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies}

makes 3-4 dozen cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 4 ounces 99% unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 {to 7} candy canes, crushed

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the oil, chocolate, and granulated sugar. Blend on medium speed. With the mixer running, add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. There may be some small clumps of sugar in the batter at this point. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed, stopping once to scrape down the sides. Mix until just incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes. The dough will be sticky.

Gather the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Sticky cookie dough - ready for the fridge

Position the racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

Pour the crushed candy canes onto a plate or into a shallow bowl. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and roll each ball into the candy cane pieces, so that all sides are covered. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared sheets.

Bake for 10 minutes for soft, chewy cookies, or 12 minutes for crisp cookies, rotating the pans halfway through baking. The cookies do set up, so if you want them soft, take them out at 10 minutes. Let cool completely on cooling racks. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days.


Oh, how I’ve missed you! {Chocolate Mint Crackle Cookies}

28 Nov

So, hi … it’s been awhile.  I know it’s not surprising this time of year, but things have been a little crazy lately … which has meant very little time for baking and crafting!  Some of the distractions were lots of fun {two November weddings this year!}, and some distractions were less than fun {coordinating our fiscal year-end audit at work}.  Thanks to the help of everyone in my department though, the audit went very smoothly; and I thought some kind of treat to celebrate and to offer a small thanks to my co-workers would be in order.  And what better way to unwind after the audit than trying out a new cookie recipe?!?

I love fresh mint!

So I went where I always go when I want a reliable, delicious recipe using mostly pantry ingredients – Simply Scratch!  This time it was her recipe for Dark Chocolate Mint Crackle Cookies that had me dreaming of the coming holiday season.  Long story short, these cookies made for a deliciously unexpected flavor combination, and I would definitely recommend trying them out if you’re a fan of fresh mint.

The fresh mint gives these cookies an earthy flavor that tends almost toward the savory; rather than the super-sweetness we have come to expect from the likes of Thin Mints, Grasshoppers, and other chocolate mint cookies {which I also love, for the record!}.  My only word of warning is that you may want to have a glass of milk handy when you eat these, as they have a dense, cakey texture.  I took home an empty container, so I think there were a few fans around the office as well!  As always, the recipe was easy to follow and the only change I made to her original recipe was to use regular cocoa powder rather than special dark {we were just getting back from a wedding and it’s what I had on-hand}.

Here’s the original recipe as it reads on Simply Scratch.  Enjoy!  {p.s.  stay tuned for some fun holiday crafts coming up soon :) }

{Dark Chocolate Mint Crackle Cookies}

Makes 30-36 cookies

  • 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder {again, I just used regular unsweetened cocoa powder}
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, {10 grams}
  • 7 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 3 whole eggs, lightly beaten
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, for rolling the cookie dough
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar, for rolling the cookie dough
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in the middle of your oven. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place mint and sugar into a food processor and blend until it resembles coarse, wet sand.

Melted chocolate & fresh mint ... smells amazing at this point!

In a sauce pan over the lowest setting melt the chocolate and butter. Stir often to avoid scorching and remove when only a few lumps remain. Stir until completely melted then pour into a large bowl. Add the mint sugar to the chocolate and stir. When the chocolate has cooled a tad, gradually add eggs and vanilla and stir. 
Add a third of the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, mix by hand. Repeat until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour. 

Cookie Rolling Station!

Using a tablespoon or small ice cream scoop, measure and roll into uniform balls. Roll the cookie balls in granulated sugar and then powdered sugar, then place the cookie balls an inch apart on a lined or greased, rimmed baking sheet. Slide into oven and bake for 10-12 minutes depending on your oven. Remove and let cool on the pan for 5 minutes then remove to cooling rack to finish.

All ready for the oven!

Just out of the oven!

Perfect holiday (or any day) cookie {Cardamom Snaps}

12 Oct

Hi … it’s me again … and yes, I’m putting more cardamom into baked goods!  This time it was a recipe for Cardamom Snaps that I came across on Better Homes and Gardens via Pinterest while my challah was baking {more on that later!}.  I was home alone, the oven was already hot, and I had everything I needed to make them; so I found myself putting the ingredients together all of five minutes after finding the recipe.

I was really hoping to find that perfect recipe to showcase the warm, soothing taste/scent of cardamom; and {Spoiler Alert!} while I really love these cookies, it’s not this recipe.  Once again, the cardamom got lost in another flavor {molasses in this case}.  That being said, these little cookies remind me of the holidays and have that perfect balance of crispiness on the outside and tender chewiness on the inside, even a day later.  Not to mention the rich flavor of spiced molasses.  As a side note, the dough is also really easy to work with, so I enjoyed rolling it out by hand without becoming a sticky mess!  Here is the original recipe with my notes.

{Cardamom Snaps}

makes about 48 cookies {or 30 if you make giant cookies like I did!}

  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup mild-flavored molasses {perhaps my molasses wasn’t mild enough}
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

In a mixing bowl beat shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar, baking soda, 1-1/2 teaspoons of the cardamom, and the cinnamon. Beat on medium to high speed until combined. Beat in molasses and egg. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls {I made mine about 1/2 inch larger than this, and the recipe yielded 30 cookies}. Roll balls in mixture of granulated sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cardamom to coat. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake in 375 degree F oven about 10 minutes or until edges are set and tops are slightly cracked. Cool on wire rack.

Maybe next time, I’ll hit up a store with more molasses options than the local Giant to see if that makes it easier to taste the cardamom.  Regardless, these cookies just may have you wishing for colder nights and warm apple cider so that you can wrap them up and share them with friends and loved ones.  Enjoy!