Sugar Cookies

As a lover of sweets, I desperately needed an upgrade from Betty Crocker’s bagged sugar cookie recipe so I went searching.  Not only did I find a sugar cookie recipe but also a buttercream frosting recipe (from here and here).  These cookies are exactly what they claim to be, thick and soft.  The best part is the recipe is perfect for birthdays, holidays, parties, and everything in between.



1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
5 1/2 cups flour
parchment paper


1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  Using a mixer, cream together butter and sugar.
3.  Add egg and vanilla.
4.  Mix in the sour cream.
5.  Combine salt, baking soda, and flour; add to the mixture.
6.  Roll the dough onto a floured surface until 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick.
7.  Use seasonal cookie cutters to cut dough into shapes.
8.  Place cookies onto a greased, parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 7-8 minutes.  The cookies will NOT look done (still pale in color with no golden edges) but do NOT leave them in any longer.
9.  Let cookies sit on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  Make sure to allow cookies to cool completely before adding any frosting.



1/2 cup butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4-1/3 cup milk


1.  In a mixing bowl, cream butter.  Beat in sugar and vanilla until the mixture is crumbly.
2.  Gradually add milk until frosting reaches desired consistency.
3.  Add food coloring and get creative!
Recipe Source:  Peppermint Plum

Fabulous Finds: NYE

Never having been a huge fan of New Year’s Eve, as proven by my six consecutive years of babysitting throughout middle and high school, I am continuing my low-key New Year’s plans by enjoying a dinner out at a tapas restaurant with some of my favorite people followed by games and drinks at my friend Erin’s house.  Sounds way more fun in my opinion than spending $150 to get into a Chicago bar to stand shoulder to shoulder with randoms unable to hear anyone or get a single drink.  Wow, I sound old and crotchety, sorry.  If you are hosting your own get together, here are a few ideas I found on Pinterest to help get your creative hosting wheels turning.  However you are choose to celebrate, have a blast ringing in 2012.


Baked Penne

Not going to lie…this recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe took 50 minutes of me in the kitchen chopping, stirring, draining, and mixing.  Not OK.  Although it turned out to be a recipe of Italian restaurant quality, much to Justin’s dismay (he absolutely loved it) I don’t see myself making this again unless it is for a special occasion in the future (i.e anniversary, dinner, parents in town, etc).

Prep Time          50 Minutes
Cook Time         15 Minutes
Makes                6-8 Servings


3/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 1/2 lbs broccoli florets
12 ounces penne pasta
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3) cut into bite-sized pieces
3 ounces smoked mozzarella, shredded
8 ounces jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped into pieces


1.  In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and melted butter.  Set aside.

2.  Lightly grease a 9×13 inch baking dish and set aside.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

3.  In a large pot, bring the water for the pasta to a boil.  Stir in one tablespoon salt and the broccoli.  Cook broccoli for 1 minute until it is bright green.  Quickly remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon to a plate and set to the side.

4.  Return the water to a boil, add penne pasta, and cook until al dente (about 1-2 minutes less than normal since the pasta will cook in the oven also).  Drain pasta and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Leave in colander.

5.  After wiping large pot dry, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and return to medium heat.  Add the onion, cook about 5 minutes until softened and browning.

6.  Stir in garlic and thyme.  Cook about 30 seconds while stirring constantly.  Add flour, salt, and pepper.  Continue to cook about 1 minute while stirring constantly.

7.  Slowly whisk in chicken broth and heaving whipping cream.  Bring to a simmer, whisk often.

8.  Add chicken.  Cook for 6-7 minutes while stirring occassionally.

9.  Stir in sun dried tomatoes and shredded smoked mozzarella.

10.  Add cooked pasta and broccoli to the sauce.  Stir.

11.  Transfer the pot mixture to the prepared 9×13 baking dish and sprinkle with the bread topping.

12.  Bake about 15 minutes until the casserole is bubbling and crumbs are lightly brown.

Even the little ones I nanny loved it!  Can’t argue with that!


Christmas Wrap

While attending one of our six family Christmas get-togethers this holiday weekend, we were asked to participate in a Christmas Rap.  While I initially was terrified of personal humiliation due to my non-existent lyrical rapping skills, I was relieved when our group was handed a black bag full of crepe paper streamers, scissors, tape, markers, foam, and props from The Dollar Store insinuating that we would be wrapping humans not rapping rhymes.  Thank goodness.  This challenge created by Justin’s super creative and organized Aunt Joy forced all the 30+ family members away from the football game, the aimless snacking at the dessert table, and the individual conversations to work-together to create their wrapped Christmas character and unforgettable family memories.


In honor of our recent trip to New York City and my favorite Christmas movie of all time, MERRY CHRISTMAS!  Embrace the Christmas spirit as if you are Buddy the Elf yourself and have the merriest Christmas of all!  Remember the best way to spread Christmas cheer is signing loud for all to hear!


Cookies for Santa

{Picture Originally from Make It Do}

I have made exactly 48 of these jars for teachers, family members, and friends in the past two weeks.  And let me tell ya…I’m officially a pro.  Originally I found these from Make It Do, who interpreted the recipe from Bakerella’s Cowgirl Cookies to create a festive holiday gift.  Don’t you love how the internet works?  One great idea snowballs into a hundred more great ideas.  Now don’t let me fool you.  Nothing I did here was a result of my own creativity.


Wide-Mouth Quart-sized canning jars (found at Ace Hardware)
1 1/3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup traditional oats
3/4 cup Christmas Milk Chocolate M&M’s
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup sugar

What to do:

1.  In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Stir.

2.  To maximize the layered effect and minimize flour covering the entire inside of the jar, pour the flour mixture into a Ziploc baggie.  Cut the bottom edge at a diagonal and funnel the flour mixture into the jar.

3.  Layer in oats using the Ziploc baggie method.  Make sure to really pack down the flour and oats so the remaining ingredients can fit.

4.  Continue to layer in this order:  M&M’s, chocolate chips, packed brown sugar, and sugar.

5.  Screw the lid on tightly.  Cover the lid with an 8×8″ square of holiday fabric and tie down with a festive ribbon.

6.  Attach a tag containing the directions for baking:

Preheat Oven 
to 350Stir dry ingredients into 
a large bowl and add:
1/2 cup butter, (almost melted), 1 slightly beaten egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Combine thoroughly and roll into 1 1/2 inch balls. Bake for 10 minutes.


-  Really pack each layer down!  Seriously.
-  I found it quicker and cleaner to do each step for all 12 jars before moving on to the next step (i.e. fill all twelve jars with the flour mixture, then all of them with the oats, etc, etc)
-  I used these directions taped to the back of these printed holiday tags.
-  Make yourself a batch of these cookies, they are AH-MAZING!

All-In-One Breakfast Casserole

During our Christmas in Chicago weekend with the family, I only had to prepare breakfast both days since we ate out for lunch and dinner.  Did I mention it was for 10 people?  In addition to cinnamon rolls, toast, cereal, and muffins, I also wanted to serve an egg casserole.  The recipe had to have minimal preparation, ingredients, and appeal to everyone.  I found this All-In-One Breakfast Casserole recipe in the church cookbook I stole from my brother two years ago.  I know, it doesn’t sound right to steal a church cookbook, but is a college student honestly ever going to pull out the pots and pans for anything besides spaghetti?  I think not.  I’m actually doing him a favor putting the cookbook to good use.  Anyways, the casserole lived up to expectations, preparation – less than 15 minutes, ingredients – only 7 which were all totally normal and appealed to everyone.  I will definitely be making this casserole the next time I need to feed a large number of people quickly.  Maybe Christmas morning with the family?! What is your go-to breakfast casserole?


1 pkg hash browns
1 pound lean sausage
1 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
10 eggs
1 1/2 cans Milnot (evaporated milk)


1.  In a 9×12″ baking dish, place a layer of hash browns.

2.  In a skillet, fry the lean sausage and drain the grease.

3.  Crumble the sausage over the layer of hash browns.

4.  Saute the chopped green pepper and onion (optional) and pour over the sausage.

5.  Layer 2 cups of mozzarella cheese on top.

6.  In a large bowl, whip the 10 eggs with the 1 1/2 cans Milnot.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and pour over the cheese layer.

7.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  You can also prepare and refrigerate overnight.

Advent Calendar

With all the hustle and bustle of shopping, baking, traveling, and attending parties during the Christmas season, the little special moments sometimes get lost in the whirlwind.  To prevent missing our favorite things about the holidays, I created this advent calendar to remind us to slow down, take a deep breath and enjoy all the special, traditional things we wanted to participate in this December.  My favorite part is that each person can make this to fit their ideas and the activities on the calendar are easily changeable from year to year as new traditions enter into your family holidays.  Have kids?  What a great way to show them different and fun Christmas adventures each day instead of just opening presents on December 25th.

My Inspiration:

What I Did:

1.  Gather your supplies (card-stock, thick 2″ ribbon, thin 1/2″ ribbon, scissors, markers, stencils, tape/glue).  Cut each 12×12 piece of card-stock into three equal 4″ wide pieces until you have 25 total (one for each day).

2.  Using a red marker, stencil the date onto each card.

3.  Size and cut rectangular green card-stock pieces for the top.  Punch a hole into the top of each card, making sure the hole in each card is the same distance from the top.

4.  Stencil a different Christmas and/or winter activity onto each card.  Decorate with drawings or decorative paper.

5.  Cut the thin 1/2″ ribbon into 25 equal pieces and attach to each individual card.

6.  Place the thick 2″ ribbon through each of the 25 cards and hang on the wall to remind you of all the holiday activities you want to accomplish!

{Hanging Above Our Windows}

{Close Up View of Days 18-25}

Advent Activities I Used:

  1. Watch “Christmas Carol”
  2. Decorate the Christmas Tree
  3. Host a Holiday Party
  4. Download and Listen to Christmas Music
  5. Send Christmas Cards
  6. Make a new Christmas decoration
  7. Play a game and drink apple cider
  8. Visit the Christkindlmarket
  9. Watch “Four Christmases”
  10. Relax with a good book
  11. Wrap Presents
  12. Decorate Gingerbread Houses
  13. Ice Skate
  14. Take pictures with Santa
  15. Angel Tree Presents
  16. See the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights
  17. Watch “A Christmas Story”
  18. Bake cookies
  19. Drive around and look at Christmas lights
  20. Kiss under the mistletoe
  21. Watch “Elf”
  22. Play Outside (Sled, Build a Snowman, etc)
  23. Give a Surprise Gift
  24. Leave Santa cookies
  25. Merry Christmas

Additional Options:

-  Instead of punching holes and using ribbon, attach the cards with clothespins.
-  Instead of using ribbon to hold the cards, use a metal ring.  Then you could display only the appropriate date and place it behind the rest when you complete it.
-  Cut your card-stock smaller to avoid having to draw and decorate or take up as much space

I’m definitely looking forward to adding in new activities as we have kids in the future (no, I’m not pregnant)!  What are some things you and your family love to do during this holiday season?

A Chicago Christmas

Experiencing Christmas in downtown Chicago is simply magical.  From the iconic plays such as “Christmas Carol” and “A Christmas Story” to the Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza to the Macy’s window displays to ice-skating and taking silly pictures with “The Bean” at Millennium Park to the gorgeous Christmas lights adorning every tree of Michigan Avenue to the bright lights at Lincoln Park Zoo, there is a Christmas attraction to fulfill any desire.  This weekend we had the special privilege of sharing all these spectacular attractions with our families.  It was such a joy to re-experience these sites from a new perspective and regain the appreciation and awe that we felt when we first encountered them four years ago.

{Ready to see “A Christmas Story” at The Chicago Theatre}

{At the Christkindlmarket with Santa Claus}

{Pictures at The Bean in Millennium Park}

{Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo}

{Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo}

{Our Gingerbread Village with Harry Potter Lego}

{Decorating Christmas Sugar Cookies}

Peanut Butter Rudolph Cookies

As soon as I laid eyes on those adorable little antlers, that bright red nose, and those sweet chocolate-brown eyes, I knew I wanted needed to make these peanut butter Rudolph cookies immediately.  They were seriously almost too cute to eat!  Almost.  No matter how cute, I’m not going to pass up anything that combines two of my favorite things:  peanut butter and chocolate.  Not to mention my friend Erin won a Christmas cookie contest with these bad boys?!  Cutest. Cookies. EVER.


3/4 cup peanut butter
1 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening
3 tbsp milk
1 tbsp vanilla
1 egg
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
chocolate covered mini pretzels
chocolate chips
red M&M’s


1.  Preheat the oven to 375.  In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, peanut butter, shortening, milk, and vanilla; beat at medium speed until well blended.

2.  Add egg and beat until just blended.

3.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.

4.  Gradually add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture until just blended.

5.  Create 1-inch dough balls spaced about 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet.  Gently flatten the dough ball with your palm and pinch the bottom into a point.  Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until just beginning to brown.

6.  Immediately remove the cookies from the oven, and press two chocolate-covered pretzels (reindeer’s antlers), two chocolate chips (reindeer’s eyes), and one red M&M (nose) into each Rudolph cookie.

7.  Let cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Recipe Source:  Bakergirl