House For Six

recipes

Goodness of Christmas Past (and Free Printables!)

Deme CrinionComment
As I type the kids are chugging down the sugar at their class parties and as of 3pm we'll officially be on Christmas break here!  All of the non-morning people in this family (all female) could not be happier.

We're planning to wrap up the Christmas decorating this weekend.  We've been doing a little each day, which is a much better pace for me than a frenzied weekend of holiday craze.  But our porch/yard is still bare and we're hosting dinner Christmas eve.....so you know, now I'm feeling like sprucing a little more.

However.  If I don't give myself an end point, I'll still have a running list of things I want to do/finish right up to Christmas day.  So, whatever doesn't get done by the end of the weekend, is getting the official cut. For my own sanity.

I'll be back on Monday with the merrifying that did get accomplished around the house and then I'll be logging off for some family time until the new year.  In lieu of a home tour, I've got a few oldie but goodies of the Christmas variety to take you into the weekend....

If you're planning to fire up the oven for some baking this weekend, we did a holiday dessert roundup last year with some tried and true treats from our family recipe book.  The salted chocolate shortbread is happening stat.
Yummy round up of easy holiday desserts!

And if you're brave enough to enter the land of homemade sugar cookies, I not only have the best recipe in the history of ever (thanks to my SIL) but I have some helpful sugar cookie tips for getting those perfect melt-in-your-mouth chewy batches.
tips for the perfect cake like sugar cookies

A couple years ago I whipped out the hot glue gun to give some plain clothes pins a little holiday cheer.  We've used them with twine for a Christmas card display the past couple years, but I'm thinking about something different this year - same pins, different set up.  We shall see.
Santa suit clothespin card display

I realize were about to enter the 4th week of Advent but you know what...it's never too late to start.  With any Christmas tradition.  I was late starting almost everything this year (and most other years), and honestly, I've felt a little off.  Maybe it's the 60 degree weather we're having.  I prefer my winters snowy and frigid....otherwise curling up with blankets and cocoa feels odd.  And sweaty.  Either way, we started our Advent wreath late, but it's an easy DIY from last year - candles, clippings from the tree, and a couple ornaments/twine.

Earlier this month, I was at Mama Needs Coffee sharing some of our Advent traditions and what that season looks like around our home.  You can hop over here for that read, where you can also find a few free printables that might help you keep your Advent focus.  Whatever our family does over these next few days, I want them to get us here:
(These color versions available for download in the post.) 


And if you like your walls with a little less flare, I have these versions you can grab too.


Now that school is out, I'm ready to clear the calendar and just lean into this last week before Christmas.  And by lean, I mean into my couch with some coffee.  Not into more hectic days.  I don't think it's too late to slow down.  In fact, I'm counting on it. Here's to wrapping up the to-do's so we can lean into the week to come.  Have a great weekend!


From earlier this month....

A super easy and stress saving Holiday Card Station....

How we saved bucko bucks and landed with a slew of great family photos...

Our list of best family games (for all ages, including those non-readers)....

Our DIY Advent Calendar (again - easy.  Complicated is not my game).


Thanks so much for reading! We would love to hang out!
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Super Easy Crockpot Fajitas

Deme Crinion1 Comment

This could be my shortest post ever because this recipe is so dang simple.  But it certainly doesn't sacrifice flavor for ease!  We made another batch of these chicken fajitas last night and I had to pass this easy-peasy summer meal on to you as we plow our way through the hot months of oven avoidance.

A couple weeks ago my dear friend Andrea made an extra large batch of this stuff and dropped some by for our family.  The chicken was so juicy and flavorful, so naturally I begged her for the recipe.  "Italian dressing"  she said, "that's it."  Really?  Yes, really.   We've made it ourselves twice now and both times landed ourselves a super flavorful meal where I barely had to lift a finger. 

Here's what you need to make your own batch of crockpot chicken fajitas:

I usually rinse and trim my chicken first.  And I typically use red and green peppers, but I had used them in a meal earlier in the week.  See?  Easy - throw in what you have.

You can use any kind of Italian dressing you wish, but have to say I preferred our Kroger brand dressing over the Newman's for this particular meal.  (We love many Newman's Own products!).  If you use a zesty Italian, it will be.....well, zestier.

I use forks to shred the chicken with about 30 minutes left of cooking time so it can soak up all those great juices.  Then serve it up with warm tortillas and your favorite toppings.  One night we ate it up just like this and another night we added refried beans and spanish rice for sides.

On the days I use my crockpot, I'm so glad to have dinner taken care of early....which may or may not be because I'm a "what are we doing for dinner?!?!?" at 4:30 kind of gal. What's your favorite crockpot recipe?

Thanks so much for reading! We would love to hang out!

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Chocolate Toffee Caramel Bars & Our Holiday Dessert Round-Up!

Deme CrinionComment

We just finished our final round of holiday baking and boy did we save the most addictive for last.  These Chocolate Toffee Caramel Bars are no joke.  They have the ability to ignite some primal survival mode in which you will lie, hoard, and drop kick smaller persons in order to preserve them for yourself.

My friend's aunt sent a care package with these on our first deployment.  My gracious and clearly delusional friend said we could grab one from under her cot where she stored them "whenever we wanted".  A ridiculous scene followed in which a handful of us would attempt to sneak over to her area and steal a piece (or five) without being noticed by the others. Those suckers were gone as fast as they came.

We begged her for the recipe and have been making them ever since.  And the best part is they're surprisingly easy to make.

Wanna try some for yourself?  Of course you do. 

(If you want to spare yourself the 10 extra pounds you will inevitably gain from this recipe, you can skip it and scroll down to our holiday dessert round-up!  Which also won't help in the waistline department, but your tummy will be happy.)

You'll need all this good stuff and few other things....

Ingredients:

1 package Moist Supreme Butter Cake Mix (I've also used a yellow cake mix)

1/3 cup oil

2 eggs

12 oz package (2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup white chocolate chips

3/4 cup Heath chocolate covered toffee bits

1/2 cup butter

Approx 32 soft caramels (I buy one bag of Worther's)

14 oz can sweetened condensed milk (heavy cream works too)

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9x13 baking pan.  In a large bowl combine the cake mix, oil and eggs.  Blend well.  Stir in chips and candy bar pieces - the mixture will be very thick. 

Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the greased pan and bake for 10 min.

Meanwhile, combine the butter, caramels, and cond. milk in a medium saucepan.  Heat on med-low stirring continuously until melted and smooth. Slowly pour the caramel mixture evenly over the partially baked crust. 

I prefer a thinner caramel center, so I only use half of this mixture and save the other half for another batch.

Place the remaining dough on top of the caramel layer.  This is the toughest part because the sauce is hot and it's hard to spread anything over it without messing up the bottom layer.  So, the best way I've found is to dip my fingers in a bit of flour and then flatten small chunks of dough at a time.

I place the flattened piece of dough on top of the caramel and continue this until the caramel is covered. 

It's fine to have a couple of small gaps.

Then it goes back in the oven for an additional 20-25 min or until the top is set and the edges are golden brown

Gently run a knife around the sides and cool for 45 minutes.  It's easiest to cut these into bars once they are completely cool and set, so we put the pan in the fridge for an additional 30 min or so and then cut. 

Then, we devour them.

You can download a printable version right here.

And just in case you missed any of the sugar-laden holiday yumminess from the past couple weeks and the archives, I've got a round up of our favorite holiday treats.  Time to get your bake on!

Yummy round up of easy holiday desserts!

These Chocolate Mint Cookies are a holiday staple around here.  You can find the recipe at allrecipes.com.  The only change we made is instead of breaking off a piece of Andes chocolate and placing it on the hot cookie to melt, we melt a cup of these baking chips in a bowl and spoon some over the top.  YUM.

We shared our family recipe and top tips for getting soft, chewy, melt-in-your mouth sugar cookies that still keep their shape.

This Classic Apple Crisp recipe from my aunt is just the absolute best....and totally flexible to your tastes/preferences.

If you love pecan pie but have an issue with large nuts in your dessert, or you just love pecan pie, then this recipe for Pecan Bars is for you.

Looking for something on the lighter side?  These Lemon Bars are a childhood staple at our home and a refreshing after dinner treat.

I don't think you can ever go wrong with a coffee flavored dessert.  This recipe for Cappuccino Cake looks and tastes uber fancy without all the fancy work.

This Salted Chocolate Shortbread recipe is something a little different, and completely divine.

And last but not least, these Orange Chocolate Chippers give a little zing to your average chocolate chip cookie. And they are the softest in the land.

Whether you're baking, wrapping, traveling, or resting, I hope you enjoy this last weekend before Christmas!

Tips For Getting the Perfect Cake-like Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

Deme Crinion2 Comments

My sister-in-law makes the best sugar cookies.  And I mean the BEST.  She was kind enough to let me share the recipe here awhile back (find the post here and a printable version of the recipe here)

I thought with her secret recipe in hand, I would just whip up a batch and soon be basking in the abundance of chewy frosted goodness.  But that's not exactly how it went down.

My shapes were more like indiscernible blobs and they were far more crunchy that her melt-in-your-mouth version.  What did I do wrong? I followed the recipe to the letter!

It turns out that cut-out sugar cookies are a bit of an art form....at least if you're picky about how you like them. It starts with a great recipe, but there are some key steps that will ensure you get soft, chewy shapes every time.

Looking back, I made a few newbie mistakes (like cutting the time the dough spent in the fridge). So after a few more attempts at this recipe and a few more tweaks, we now have a tried and true method that's an easy family favorite.

Now when I say "perfect", I don't mean those impeccably frosted masterpieces you almost don't want to bite into because they're so pretty.....although that's never stopped me in the end.   You're always going to get the unmistakably home-made looking variety around here.  But I promise you, they will taste amazing! 

Here's how we get soft, chewy sugar cookies (in identifiable shapes) every time....

1. Don't Overwork The Dough

I think this goes for most cookies/baking, but avoid over mixing and over working your dough.  I stop my mixer as soon as all the ingredients come together but are well integrated.  Since you're going to be rolling and handling this dough even more, do your best to avoid over mixing it in the bowl.  I work any lingering flour in by hand.

2.  Don't Skip The Fridge

Most sugar cookie dough needs to be chilled.  This not only helps the cookies keep their shape once cut out but it also prevents the cookies from being too crunchy.  So don't cheat!!  Our recipe calls for the dough to be chilled one hour.  If you're short on time, pop it in the freezer for 30 min, but DO NOT skip this step!  And also do number 3....

3.  Flatten the Dough Before Chilling

I used to just pop the dough into the fridge in a giant ball.  It took longer for the dough to fully chill and made it really difficult to roll out.  Now I lay out a long sheet of Press N Seal, dump the freshly mixed dough on top, then spread it out to a rectangular shape about 1 inch think. I make sure it's all wrapped up (usually needing one more sheet of Press N Seal) and pop it in the fridge.

  It chills much faster and more evenly...and it's much easier to roll out when it's time to bake!

4.  Not Too Thin

When it's time to roll out the dough I break off about a 1/3 chunk from my chilled rectangle and place it on a well floured cutting board or mat. 

 Roll out the dough as evenly as possible but not too thin.  The cookie will keep it's cut shape much better with a thicker dough and it will also give them that to-die-for cake like quality.  I aim for 1/4" thick

5. Dip Your Cutters In Flour

If you find your dough sticking to your cutter or having to wrestle it out, dip the cutter in a bit of flour first.  

6.  Maximize The Dough Space

Try to get your shapes as close as possible and use as much of the dough as you can the first time around. 

After that, ball up the extras, add some more flour, and roll out again.  I try not to do this more than 2 times with each piece of dough.  The more you work the dough the softer and warmer it gets....meaning the more likely it is to end up a flat cookie.

7.  Chill The Shapes In Waiting

Our recipe makes a pretty large amount of dough.  If I'm baking it all the same day, I will place the cut shapes on a sheet of parchment or wax paper and keep them in the fridge until I'm ready to pop them on the tray for the oven.  I have two insulated baking sheets that I swear by for cookies.  So, when I'm cooking large batches I often have to reuse a warm cookie sheet.  I wait until the very last second to put the shapes on from the fridge so the dough doesn't start to warm up or spread.

8.  Do Not Over Bake!!!

For a soft, chewy cookie, this is the most important tip!  And it took me awhile to figure out the right time on my oven for a cookie that was "just" done but not raw in the middle.  I promise to update this post with a pic of this but in the meantime, here's what I look for:

Wait until the center of the cookie no longer appears wet or shiny but do not let the edges brown

.  If I check the cookies and the center is still uncooked, I check it every minute after that and pull them as soon as the center is done. Smaller cookies will take less time and larger/thicker shapes take longer.

Once they have cooled completely you can frost away or save the frosting for another day.  Just be sure to store them in an air tight container.

9.  Break It Up

If even the mention of making sugar cookies from scratch feels completely overwhelming, try breaking up the steps over a few days.  We used to set aside a day for baking, but now I try to save myself some time and sanity.  I usually make a quick batch of dough the day before and store it in the fridge....the next day we'll cut out the shapes and bake....and the following day is for frosting.  It can be a messy job, especially if you get the littles involved, so spacing it out might just be the ticket to everyone living through the process.  And hey, you get delicious sugar cookies at the end of it! 

*I would love to hear from you veteran sugar cookie bakers!  What are your best tips?  I know some swear by certain baking sheets/pans/etc or maybe you have a special ingredient that makes your cookies out of this world.  Let's hear it! 

And good luck to anyone taking on some holiday baking this week!