Reindeer Cookies

Gifts in a Jar idea

This is my Christmas version of the Cowgirl Cookie Mix in a Jar.  I certainly am not claiming any ownership here because I am sure this has been done before. But what’s so great about this cookie mix is that it is so versatile – all you have to do is change the color of the M&M’s. And lucky for us the M&M Company keeps us all in holiday colors 🙂

Reindeer Cookie Mix in a Jar

1 & 1/3 cup flour (1/2 unbleached & 1/2 whole wheat)

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup quick oats

3/4 cup M&Ms

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup white sugar (I used organic)

13 – 1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Combine the flour with the baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Get your other ingredients measured and ready.

2. Layer the ingredients like this:

First: Flour mixture

Second: Oats

Third: M&Ms

Fourth: Chocolate Chips

Fifth: Brown Sugar

Sixth: Regular Sugar

Seventh: Chopped pecans

2. Make sure you really pack each layer down.  If for some reason it doesn’t all fit, it’s better to leave out the nuts than something essential like sugar. The ingredients should go all the way to the top of the jar.

3. Decorate the jars with a handmade label (or a label made using a desktop publisher), some fabric and ribbon or cord. Here I used some craft paper cut about 6 inches square, some double-sided tape to hold it in place on the lid, and some pipe cleaner garland with Christmas bells. There really is no wrong way to decorate your jars.

4. Make sure your labels include the directions for baking. They are as follows:

Add 1 slightly beaten egg, 1/2 cup butter (melted in the microwave), and 1 tsp vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients. It’s a tough batter to incorporate all the ingredients at once so you may need to use your hands.

Roll the dough into 1 -inch balls (I use a 1-inch scooper/melon baller). Place on parchment paper-covered baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes. Yield: about 3 dozen cookies.

So if you have a special occasion coming up or just need a cute gift for someone, consider customizing this cookie mix, layer it in a quart-size bell jar, and wrap a ribbon around it. Don’t forget to include directions because your recipient will need to know what wet stuff to add.

Here are a few ideas:

Pink M&M’s (Breast Cancer Awareness – Usually found around October) for girls birthday, bridal shower party favors

Purple or other dark colors (M&M’s puts out dark colored shells in dark chocolate) for boys birthday, groom’s party favors

Pastel M&M’s (Found around Easter) for baby shower, Easter-time, child’s birthday

Red & Blue M&M’s for 4th of July, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, or as a gift to someone in the Military (or a Vet)

Red  and/or Pink M&M’s for Valentines Day, Sweetest Day, or an anniversary

Green M&M’s for St. Patrick’s Day

Orange and Brown Reese’s Pieces for Halloween

As you can see there are lots of possibilities and occasions for a gift like this.

Shredded Beef & Black Bean Chili

I threw this together for a quick Sunday supper using leftover pot roast, but if you don’t have any leftovers you can make this just as quickly using a pound of ground beef (or chicken or turkey). All you have to do is add in the rest of the ingredients and you’re good to go. This was a great meal for a chilly day, too, and super easy to assemble in the crock pot before church.

Shredded Beef & Black Bean Chili

{approx.} 12 oz. leftover beef*

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2- 15 oz. cans black beans, rinsed and drained

2- 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice

3/4 cup beef broth

2 T unsweetened cocoa powder

2 T chili powder

1 T cumin

1 T paprika

1. Chop onion and bell pepper and mince the garlic;  saute in butter or EVOO in skillet over medium-low heat. *If using fresh ground meat brown it at this time with the vegetables. Make sure to drain fat.

2. Combine in crock pot the meat, vegetables, beans, tomatoes, broth, and spices.

3. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or high for 4 to 5 hours.

4. Slice a baguette; butter and top with garlic powder and grated parmesan cheese. Toast slices and use broiler to brown tops if necessary. Serve as a side to the chili.

5. Top with sliced green onions, shredded cheddar cheese and/or sour cream, as desired.

Sweet ‘n Spicy Brown Sugar Body Scrub

Gifts in a Jar idea

This was super easy to make, and I had all the ingredients on hand so it only took a few minutes to put it all together. All you need to finish this last-minute gift idea is a jar, some ribbon, and some kind of label to stick or tie on.

Notice the lack of label on mine? Yeah. Stupid printer.


Sweet ‘n Spicy Brown Sugar Body Scrub

1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)

1 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup EVOO

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp ginger

2 tsp nutmeg

1. In a mixing bowl combine all ingredients. Break up any lumps in the brown sugar. I used my mixmaster to do my mixing. It’s also best if your spices are all powdered and not granules. This mixture will fill a 16 oz. jar.

2. To use: place a tsp or two in your hands and gently massage in circular motions on skin. Leave on for several minutes. Scrub will tighten the skin. Rinse thoroughly. Apply a bit of soap to remove extra oils.

Orange Sesame Chicken

Okay-my first attempt at Chinese cuisine. We all know I’m a Tex Mex freak, and hubby is relieved I’m taking a break and trying other things (even though he didn’t eat this!) And I gotta say it was not bad for my first time. Numbers One and Two liked it and ate it up like good boys.

This is a great dish for weeknights when you can only spare 30 minutes for cooking. Really, it’s that fast and easy.

Orange Sesame Chicken

4 chicken breasts, skinless, boneless and thawed

1/2 cup flour

1/8 tsp salt


1. Cut chicken into large pieces. Heat a large skillet on medium-high and put in EVOO. Combine flour and salt and coat chicken thoroughly. Place chicken into pan and brown all sides.

2. While the chicken is getting all browned and golden, make your sauce.

1/2 cup fresh orange juice (2 large oranges)*

1/4 cup soy sauce

3 T dry white wine**

4 T sugar

1 T grated orange peel

1/4 cup cold water

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1/4 tsp ginger

1 T cornstarch

1 T toasted sesame seeds

3. Zest one orange and squeeze the juice from both. *I used 3 medium-sized oranges and still didn’t have 1/2 cup- you can supplement with OJ.

4. Pour your orange juice into a large mixing bowl with all of the above ingredients EXCEPT for the sesame seeds. **Rice vinegar will work in lieu of the white wine if you prefer. Stir until the cornstarch has dissolved and everything is combined well.

5. Pour the orange sauce over the chicken and let cook for 10-15 minutes on medium-low. Stir occasionally. Stir in sesame seeds before serving.

Serve with rice and steamed broccoli. If you plan this meal ahead you can even pick up some eggrolls at your local chinese takeout.

DIY Gift Jar Round-Up

We’ve all seen the wall pics and posters and advertisments all over the place that talk about buying LOCAL for Christmas instead of shopping at big stores that carry items made in China. In fact, I even discussed this in a post called Birth of a New Tradition. No Chinese, Please last year around this time. Here’s a refresher:

Most of them seem pretty simple. You go out and get some gift certificates to a local restaurant or hair salon, etc. (And in this tough economy people truly do appreciate gifts like these.) But for the crafty, DIY-type gifts, you my be feeling, well….not so crafty. But these are super easy to put together and can be (and should be) made in bulk so that you have enough handy for those moments when a small something is needed such as a hostess gift, Secret Santa, teacher gifts, or as party favors. For a bigger, more personal gift, try creating a basket with several different jars.

What I love about the gift jars is that there are no rules, so it doesn’t have to be food related. You can make a yummy brown sugar body scrub and pair it with a body brush, or make a sewing kit (yes, I’ve seen those- so cute! Click here for that one.) So here are a few ideas:


I made a bunch of these for my church bakesale. It was super easy. I created my own labels/directions using a desktop publishing CD. Add a little ribbon and you’ve got something gift-worthy.

Dry Cream Soup Mix by The Home Heart

  Cowgirl Cookies @ Bakerella

These Marshmallows are the perfect addition to a steaming mug of hot chocolate. What else possibly signifies the winter season better? Package in cellophane bags and tie with a cute, festive ribbon, and you’ve got a great gift. Pair it with some cocoa and you’ve got a gift basket.

Cocoa Candy Cane Marshmallows @ A Field Journal

Cinnamon Honey Butter @ Tidy Mom

Peppermint Stick Cocoa @ My Recipes

Friendship Soup @ All Recipes

Chcoclate Chip & Oatmeal Quickbread @ Sunset

Cinnamon Vanilla Sugar Scrub @ Tidy Mom

S’more Kits @ Twig & Thistle

Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies with Pie Spice Cream Cheese Frosting

Wow! Did you read that right?  Let’s say that again: Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies with Pie Spice Cream Cheese Frosting. THAT is a mouthful! And your mouth will be full…of these wonderful whoopie pies!

There’s not really anything that needs to be said here…don’t ya think? So without further ado I give you the recipe 🙂

Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies

2 1/2 cups flour (1/2 unbleached & 1/2 whole wheat)

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 T pumpkin pie spice

1 T cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup organic sugar

3/4 brown sugar

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350*. Brown the butter in saute pan. This is key to giving the batter a caramel-like smell and flavor. You could probably make this with just regular butter, but I promise you won’t be sorry you did this extra step. Allow butter to cool until it solidifies into a semi-soft state.

2. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and salt. Set aside.

3. Cream together the browned butter and the two sugars. Add pumpkin, egg, and vanilla. Beat until creamy.

4. Mix in dry ingredients.  Drop onto cookie sheet by tablespoons and flatten slightly. You’ll need wet fingers for this as the batter is very sticky.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Pie Spice Cream Cheese Frosting

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1/2 cup butter

1 (8 oz) block cream cheese

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice*

1. Combine the softened cream cheese and butter in large mixing bowl; mix just until blended.

2. Add in vanilla and pie spice. *You could also use cinnamon instead, or both.

3. Slowly add in the powdered sugar, mixing on low speed, until it’s all combined.

4. Sandwich about 1 T of frosting between two cookies.

5. Keep refrigerated.


Vegetable Ragu

This is an amazing and versatile dish. The recipe comes from my friend Yvonne who fashioned it after a dish she ate in a restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised at the slight sweetness, a perfect accompaniment to grilled or pan seared fish. This recipe makes 4 servings and could easily go with just about any protein.

Vegetable Ragu

2 medium shallots, diced

1 leek or 2 bunches of green onions, diced

1/2 red, yellow, or orange pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

a cup seeded and skinned tomato, diced

2 cups corn

1 cup peas, lima beans, carrots (all or one)

1 (11 oz) can mandarin oranges, chopped and liquid saved

1 cup vegetable broth

1/2 cup sherry

1 T cold butter, diced

salt and pepper, to taste

dash of sugar

1 T butter and EVOO

1. In a large skillet put the T of butter and olive oil on low heat. When butter is melted add shallots, leeks, peppers, garlic, salt, pepper, and dash of sugar. Cook on low for about 5 minutes.

2. Add the corn, oranges, tomatoes, and peas. Simmer another 5 minutes.

3. Turn up the heat to medium  to medium-high, but stir the veggies so they don’t stick and burn. When the pan is hot add the sherry. It should sizzle when you put it in the pan.

4. Add broth and reserved orange juice; cook until reduced by half. Salt and pepper to taste.

5. Take off burner and add cold butter, stirring to incorporate.

Serve and enjoy!

Potato and Leek Soup

At a dinner party not too long ago this was the second course of our meal, and I had to stop myself from licking the bowl clean. Seriously, this soup is awesome!

And yes there is prosciutto on top in this picture, and yes, I did eat it! All toppings are optional of course, but if you like prosciutto you sure won’t be disappointed by adding it. The greenery in the picture is pan-fried parsley, so you can see that there really are no limits to what toppings you can add to this soup.

Potato and Leek Soup

2 pounds Potatoes, some peeled and all diced

1 pound Leeks, washed and sliced thin

1 Onion, chopped

1 Carrot, chopped

 Celery Stalk, chopped

5 cups Chicken Stock (or vegetable stock)

4 T Butter

Salt And Pepper

1/2 cup milk


 Sour Cream

1/2 cup chives, chopped

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese


Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add potatoes, leeks, onion, carrot,and celery; cover and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring often.

Add chicken stock or vegetable stock, ½ cup milk, salt, and pepper. Turn heat to low, cover, and cook till potatoes are falling apart. You can then mash the potatoes in the pot and serve. If you want to puree the soup, let it cool and put in blender or food processor. Then back to pot and reheat.

Serve with the garnish of choice or all of them, and a big, crusty, buttery crouton 🙂

Recipe by Yvonne


I am a HUGE tiramisu fan.

I love it.

I have sampled many a tiramisu only to be disappointed (especially when it’s some prepackaged mess that a restaurant is selling for dessert). There have been few tiramisu’s out there that are up to par, and if you are a tiramisu snob like me then you will not be disappointed by this recipe.

This is also one of the {very} few homemade recipes that is worthy of 5 stars. I guess that would make sense since an actual chef made it for me 🙂 We all know and love her simply as Yvonne.

Disclaimer: This was the picture given to me with the recipe. I have seen it on another website, so I can’t give origin credit.


6 egg yolks

3 T sugar

1-1/2 cups Espresso, cooled

2 T Kaluha

24 pack Ladyfingers

1/2 cup shaved chocolate, for garnish

1 lb Mascarpone cheese

1. In large bowl beat egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale. Add mascarp0ne cheese and beat until smooth. Add 1 T of espresso and mix.

2. In shallow dish add remaining espresso and Kaluha. Dip ladyfingers into the mixture. Do not let soak for long or the ladyfingers will get too soggy and fall apart.

3. Place the soaked ladyfingers in bottom of a 13×9-inch pan. Break the ladyfingers if necessary to fit the pan.

4. Spread 1/2 of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers. Repeat the layers (ladyfingers then cheese) one more time.

5. Cover top with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

6. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings right before serving.

Serves 6-8

Time for a little reader interaction…

What? This isn’t a recipe!

While I won’t stop cooking and posting eats 🙂 I will from time to time blog about well….writing in general. Since that was my motivating factor for blogging in the first place.

So, here’s your first assignment. (Pretty please) Read the hook below and tell me anything and everything you think.

16-year-old Jade Casteel and her friends don’t like rules very much. When a joyride spirals out of control, Jade finds herself in a mental hospital with no memory of how she got there.

Does it intrigue you?

Does this simplified statement convey enough about a complex story with multiple characters and plotlines, enough to generate interest?

Is it too open-ended? Or is the conflict clear?

Should the wording be stronger (i.e. verbs, nouns, adjectives) ?

Do you get enough of a feel for the protagonist, the conflict(s) and/or the stakes at risk?

Is the hook too cliché? How would you change the wording?

A few tidbits of info. for reshaping the hook:  She doesn’t know where her friends are or what’s happened to them. She doesn’t know where she belongs (school, friends, society, etc.)

~ Feel free to critique and offer helpful suggestions.  Thanks!! ~

BTW Just for a {very great} laugh, check out this blog post by author Nathan Bransford. I’ve been having a tough few days here at the old laptop- frying my brain with query research and all- and this just made me laugh until I cried. It was just what I needed! You other writers out there will definitely appreciate it 🙂

The Publishing Process in GIF Form