Cookie Decorating for Kids

My sister makes the best sugar cookies. Seriously…the BEST. Maybe I’m biased because she’s my sister, but they’re amazing. Honestly, I don’t even really like sugar cookies - except hers. They’re perfectly sweet, never dried out (thanks to a little trick I’ll share in an upcoming post!) and decorated BEAUTIFULLY! These cookies are a work of culinary and visual art.

OK, those cookies pictured above were decorated by a five-year-old…not by my sister.

Today, I really want to show you how my sister is cultivating cookie decorating skills in her daughter, Chloe - without the frosting mess that a kindergartener is sure to make.

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Homemade New Jersey Deli Bagels

There are a lot of things I miss about New Jersey.  I miss being familiar with a place because I grew up there.  I miss the weekly football gatherings at my dad’s house, having about 50 authentic Italian restaurants within a 5 mile radius, only being a few (traffic-filled) minutes away from Manhattan, the “accent” that I didn’t realize existed until I moved to Kentucky - and I miss the bagels.

Every deli in New Jersey sells bagels.  I’m not sure which are better, New York bagels or New Jersey bagels, but I have to say the texture and flavor of both are something I haven’t found anywhere else.  We have a Panera nearby and they definitely make a decent bagel - but the slightly dense, slightly sweet, slightly salty, steamy and rich bread encased in the chewy caramelized crust of a fresh New Jersey bagel just can’t be beat.

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Hungarian Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Bread making has always intimidated me.  I’ve sheepishly tip-toed around the subject, baking everything BUT bread ever since I was tall enough to reach Mom’s measuring cups in the cabinet above the stove.  I’ve drooled and gazed longingly at recipe pictures of fresh baked baguettes and dinner rolls, and I’ve purchased all kinds of books with titles along the lines of “Bread Making: TRY IT ALREADY!”, yet I had never actually made real bread - until last night.  I was browsing when I came across a recipe for a cinnamon swirl bread.  I skimmed the ingredients list and I had everything I needed, so I put on the apron, rolled up the sleeves and decided to finally take the bread leap.

I’ve had an adorable pale yellow KitchenAid stand mixer for a few years now.  It’s my prized possession.  It has whipped up buttercreams, meringues, macarons and lots of other yummy things that I’ve had the pleasure of serving, gifting and of course, eating.  The mixer made this bread recipe an absolute breeze.

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Healthy Cocoa Banana Almond Smoothie

I don’t actually remember buying a truckload of bananas, but I keep finding more in the fruit bowl. What to do with a mysteriously never-ending supply of bananas? I already did bread so I considered doing cake, cookies or muffins, but I was in the mood for something quick. I decided to throw together a simple and healthy smoothie!

This would have taken me a total of 5 minutes if my blender didn’t decide to stop working. Thank goodness we keep a backup! You never know when you’re gonna have a blending emergency…

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Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce

I promised a few weeks ago that I’d share what I did with some of the tomatoes from my monster tomato plant. Well, I’m finally fulfilling that promise. I’ve used a handful of those tomatoes on salads and sandwiches, but what I love most is good ‘ol spaghetti sauce. This is no fancy original recipe, but an old classic that I grew up on.

My mom would make spaghetti sauce in what I thought was the world’s largest pot. There were six kids in my family after all, and we ate like there were 12 of us. Sometimes there actually were 12 of us for dinner—not all blood-related siblings, but high school seniors.

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Offbeat’s Picks: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix

I love the smell of freshly baked bread. Add in the crisp fall air and make that a sweet pumpkin bread, and you’ll have one delicious morning. But sometimes there’s just not enough time to make sweet bread from scratch. Or maybe there’s time, but let’s be honest - you just don’t feel like it.

In comes Trader Joe’s to the rescue. I love their sweet bread mixes, especially the Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix that comes out in the fall. You only need to add water, oil and eggs and you’ve got freshly baked goodness in no time.

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Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

I hate throwing food away.  Whenever we buy produce, I have a vague idea of what I want to use it for - then we get busy, a few days pass and our lovely haul starts to take on a funky smell and an unidentifiable texture.  There are a few ways to salvage those precious fruits and veggies even after they’ve gone bad, but my absolute favorite (hands down) is chocolate chip banana bread.

I’ve always loved banana breads, banana cakes, banana muffins, banana cookies - basically if it has banana in it, I’ll eat it.  Every year my mom would bake a banana cake with cream cheese frosting for my birthday.  That’s probably where my addiction originated.

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DIY Roasted Red Peppers

I LOVE roasted red peppers. Love, love, love, love, love. OK, you get the point. I love the sweetness partnered with the toasty flavor from the small flecks of char still left on the pepper. Add a little olive oil and you’ve won me over.

But here’s the problem—if I bought roasted red peppers in the grocery store as often as I eat them, I’d go broke. At my local grocery store, 12 ounces of roasted red peppers (8.25 ounces drained) goes for about $3.79. I mean, one jar may not break the bank, but I’d like this roasted goodness to be a staple in my house, not a delicacy. A 12 ounce jar contains 1 to 1.5 bell peppers, which I can roast for about $1.50-$2.25 when the peppers aren’t even on sale.  With my conservative estimate, you’re saving at least $1.54 each time you roast at home rather than buy the jar. And if you grow red bell peppers in your home garden this is practically free! You can’t beat that!

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Kitchen Mishaps + Chunky Peanut Butter Cookies

I woke up ready to bake. I’ve had 2 jars of PB2 (powdered peanut butter) sitting in my pantry for about two weeks now and I’d been wanting to try my hand at some low calorie peanut butter cookies. I knew PB2 would be an awesome substitute for full-fat peanut butter in a lot of different recipes, but I wasn’t sure how well it would fare in baking. Let’s call this my noble attempt.

First off, the number 1 rule of baking is probably this: make sure you have all necessary ingredients in the house before you start mixing your dough. Oops! I had to run out for eggs with a half-measured bowl of peanut butter & sugar sitting on the counter. Not off to a great start.

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The Magic of Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

My earliest memory of these cookies is when I was 7 or 8 years old and we went to visit my great grandma. I remember feeling shy and embarrassed about going to a place I hadn’t been before. It was scary being surrounded by grownups who all seemed really comfortable even though I didn’t know any of them very well.

I remember timidly walking through the front door and being overwhelmed by a smell so delicious I couldn’t wait to find out what it was. My great grandma greeted us with a smile and hugs, and told us she had been baking cookies for us! All of my little-kid shyness and embarrassment went right out the window. She baked cookies for us!

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