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Christmas is basically just another excuse for us to add another layer of Star Wars awesomeness to our house. We love giving Star Wars gifts as much as we love getting them, but it can sometimes be overwhelming when there are so. many. choices!
As if this week’s The Force Awakens teaser wasn’t enough to get Star Wars fans excited, I’ve put together a list of gift ideas for the Star Wars superfan in your life! I’ve got gifts for Bigs and Littles, and for the home, and even holiday decor that will bring a little of the Force home for the holidays.
This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #PepItUp #CollectiveBias
Jamie and I have been fans of Top Chef for a long time, and even though it’s been several years since Chef Mike Isabella made his famous pepperoni sauce, we’ve never forgotten it. It’s because of that memory that I was SO excited when I was given the opportunity to create and share a recipe featuring Hormel Pepperoni. This pepperoni sauce is so versatile, it can be used for lots of things, but I wanted to share it as a delicious filling for a chicken and pasta dish.
First things first, you need to make the pepperoni sauce.
I feel like pepperoni is underrated as an ingredient, and is useful as so much more than just a pizza topping! Hormel pepperoni is a favorite in our house, and the only brand we buy. It has just the right amount of spice that it isn’t too much for Max, and it isn’t too boring for Jamie and I. For us, it’s perfect.
To start, sweat the onions and garlic for a bit, then add in the pepperoni slices. I used two packages of Hormel slices for this recipe.
It makes the most gorgeous colored sauce when you start cooking it down! Once the pepperoni has cooked down and is making your kitchen smell SO delicious, add in the crushed tomatoes, wine, spices, and broth. Let simmer for about 40 minutes.
When done simmering, don’t forget to remove the bay leaf! Transfer the sauce to your blender and pulse a few times to break up the slices of pepperoni. If you over-blend it, it becomes more of a puréed spread, which is fine for some uses, but for this recipe, you’ll want to leave it a little chunky. A few hits of the pulse button should do it for you. The sauce is done here, but keep reading for more on what to do with it!
Inspired by Chef Mike Isabella, this pepperoni sauce is fantastic for a variety of uses where a little Italian flavor is just the thing!
2 T. olive oil
½ med. yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
12 oz. Hormel Pepperoni slices
1 t. red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
15 oz. can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup red wine
1¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
Salt to taste
Sweat onions, garlic and olive oil, in large pan, 7 minutes
Add pepperoni slices, cook 5 minutes
Add pepper flakes (more to taste) and bay leaf, cook 1 minute
Add can of tomatoes with juice, cook 5 minutes
Add broth and red wine, reduce heat, simmer 40 minutes
Transfer sauce to blender
Pulse blend to remove large slices of pepperoni, but don't overblend
Season to taste
Stuffed Chicken Breasts
I love pesto, and it’s fantastic with pepperoni as well! For this dish, I rolled some of my favorite flavors into a chicken breast, and served it over pasta. I just used a store bought pesto, but you could use homemade too, if you’re so inclined.
First, you need to flatten your chicken breasts to get more space for the filling. Lay it out on a sheet of plastic wrap, and fold the plastic over the chicken. Using a tenderizer or something similar (notice my cast iron pan) smack the chicken breast to flatten it out. Then you have a good surface to spread your fillings.
I did a thin layer of pesto first, then about a 1/2 cup of pepperoni sauce, then topped it with shredded mozzarella. Fold the sides of the chicken breast up (roll it if you can, but mine was more like a taco shell made of chicken) and place into a baking dish.
Bake at 350 until the chicken reaches an interior temp of 165. It was about 35 minutes for us, but may vary for you, depending on the thickness of your chicken and how close together they are in the pan.
While my chicken was in the oven, I fried up some mini pepperoni slices for garnish. It only took a couple of minutes in the skillet and they were done.
Drain well on a paper towel. Beware though, they taste like tiny pepperoni flavored bacon pieces and it might be hard not to eat them all once you get started!
I made pasta, and tossed it with a little bit of pepperoni sauce, then served the stuffed chicken on top, finally garnished with the crispy pepperoni slices.
I only used about half the sauce made with this recipe, so we will be doing other things with it as well; it’s great as a spread on grilled cheese, or use it to make your own mini pizzas, on English muffins or bagels, the possibilities are endless!
Ahhh, it’s December first, and children all over the world will wake this morning to open the first door on their Advent Calendar, that beloved countdown to Christmas morning.
Around here, we do a chocolate one from IKEA, and the LEGO City one of course, but then we started talking about some TERRIBLE Advent calendar ideas that might exist in some awful alternate universe… here are six Advent calendars that would just be the WORST:
Each day brings some new household task that must be completed. Examples include: Emptying the cat pan, cleaning the baseboards, scrubbing the toilet, vacuuming under the refrigerator, or cleaning out that gross food catcher thing in the bottom of the dishwasher.
This one is more interactive than others; the calender consists of a variety of containers, and each day you release a new biting insect into your home. Available with and without the Malaria upgrade.
Regardless of actual grade level, everyone gets the same assignment. Upon purchase of this advent calendar, it is registered with the student’s teacher, so the work is due the next day, no excuses or you’ll get a zero for the day. Problems range from simple kindergarten sight word spelling quizzes to collegiate level algebraic equations.
The perfect solution for what to do with all that extra food from Thanksgiving! This special set of numbered plastic containers allows you to portion the remnants of your celebratory feast into snack sized portions to be enjoyed over the course of the coming month, so you can revel in the happy memories of your Thanksgiving Day. This one is not recommended if you are immune compromised or have an otherwise weak stomach.
Each day will bring a little piece of technology from ages past, which is cool for about 45 seconds, and then it’s just more clutter for your house. The first week includes a Betamax tape (of a Very Special After School Special, circa 1986), a Sly and the Family Stone 8-track, a 5.25″ “Oregon Trail” install floppy disk, an AOL promotional CD, and a Sony walkman with included mix tape. Unfortunately, the tape has come unwound inside the walkman, so you’ll need to provide your own pencil to remedy that situation.
This is actually a cool idea, in theory. Except that our alternate universe gifts you with pieces from 24 different puzzles, so you can’t actually finish it. But all of the pieces *look* like they could be from the same puzzle, so you are unable to realize that there’s a problem until about the 18th of December.
This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CollectiveBias #PBandG
Two flavors that are so prominent in my childhood memories are Honey Maid graham crackers and Skippy peanut butter. Put a smear of creamy peanut butter on a crunchy graham cracker, and I’m instantly transported back to our kitchen and many after school snacks. Fortunately, both graham crackers and peanut butter are also great crafting and baking materials, so I’ve got a couple of fun family holiday ideas for you using Skippy peanut butter and Honey Maid graham crackers.
Up first, these Peanut Butter S’more Pops I made. It’s a peanut butter-flavored marshmallow that’s dipped in chocolate and then rolled in graham cracker crumbs. This is one of those things where the sum of its parts is more delicious than the individual parts on their own.
I love making marshmallows at home, because they’re one of those things that impress people, even though they’re actually super easy to make… one caveat though… they’re only super easy if you have a stand mixer. I can’t imagine making them without my trusty Kitchen Aid, and I don’t even know how marshmallows got invented without the stand mixer because OMG 15 minutes on high speed is a long time! Fif. Teen. Minutes.
Homemade peanut butter marshmallows are taken to a whole new level when dipped in chocolate and rolled in graham cracker crumbs!
3 packets plain gelatin
1 cup Ice Water
1½ cups White Sugar
1 cup Corn Syrup (Light)
Generous Pinch of Salt
1 t. Vanilla Extract
¼ cup Creamy Skippy Peanut Butter
¼ cup Powdered Sugar
¼ cup Corn Starch
1 bag Chocolate Candy Melts
1 package Honey Maid Graham Crackers, crushed into crumbs
Put ½ cup of ice water and gelatin packets in the bowl of your stand mixer. Stir just a little to combine, then set it aside.
In small saucepan, put other ½ cup of water, corn syrup, sugar, and salt.
Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and put candy thermometer on edge of pan.
Keep sugar mix at a simmer until it reaches of 235° F. Stir occasionally to keep from burning.
Once it reaches 235°, remove from heat.
Turn the mixer on low and slowly pour the sugar mixture into the bowl. (I recommend transfering from saucepan to something with a pour spout)
Once all of the sugar is poured into the mixer, turn up to medium/high and let it go.
Continue whipping for 15 minutes, add the vanilla and peanut butter in the last couple of minutes.
While the mixture is whipping away, prepare your pan for the next step:
Mix the powdered sugar and corn starch and use it to powder the 9″x13″ pan after you spray it with non-stick spray.
Tap out the excess, but set it aside for later.
Spray a rubber spatula with non-stick spray and use that to get the batter from the bowl into the prepared pan.
When all mix is in pan, spread corn starch/sugar mix on top.
Allow marshmallows to set until cool.
When cool, turn marshmallow out onto cutting board.
Use a cookie cutter to cut out marshmallow shapes.
Put marshmallows on sticks, dip in candy melts.
Working quickly, roll pop in graham cracker crumbs.
Allow to set.
Graham Cracker Houses
While I was in the kitchen mixing and melting and dipping, I wanted to give Max the opportunity to do something I loved doing as a kid, and to decorate a “gingerbread” house made of Honey Maid graham crackers. I built the house for him, so he could focus on decorating. I built the house itself using a traditional royal icing recipe, but then I made a peanut butter buttercream for him to use to adhere the decorations… it’s tastier for him, because he ate as much as he used, and I liked that it matched the color of the graham crackers better, so he could get a nice look without being quite so precise with the icing.
After I piled our entire kitchen table with all of the leftover Halloween candy, various sweet snack items, and a ridiculous number of sprinkles options, I learned that Max is a minimalist when it comes to holiday cookie house decorating, and he used about 5 things total. Of course.
A couple of house-building tips… Use a serrated bread knife to cut crackers if you need them; I just let the weight of the knife itself press down; I didn’t actually add any pressure to it to cut. Just gently saw through the crackers and they’ll break off clean. I also reinforced the walls using extra lollipop sticks I had from the S’more Pops. It helped hold the two vertical crackers together, and acted as an additional level of support for the roof.
After I saw Max’s minimalist house, I couldn’t resist the urge to make one for myself too… I used one of my peanut butter marshmallows cut in a tree shape for decor in front of my house as well, and I used a little food coloring in the peanut butter icing for the “grass” in front… the roof is candy melts, and the windows on the house are Oreo Thins, and the walkway in front is peanut butter with some sugar sprinkled on top
I hosted an OREO Cookie Ball decorating party the other day, and wanted to have something to decorate my front door, to help set the mood before my guests got in the front door, so I made this simple “wreath” inspired by the classic OREO cookie.
12″ Cardboard Cake Circles (2) | 10″ Styrofoam Round | Wooden letters spelling YUM | White Glue
Red acrylic paint | Brown acrylic paint | Red glitter | 25′ Decorative ribbon | Short sewing pins (1″)
Paint the non-white side of the cake circles brown, and paint the letters red.
After paint dries, apply a thin layer of white glue to letters to adhere glitter.
Once the brown circles have dried, use a black marker to add the textured design to the front of the cookie:
It’s just meant to be a suggestion of a cookie; no need to get out the compass or the protractor.
You only need to do the design on one of the circles… using the white glue, attach the styrofoam round to the front of the blank brown circle, then put the cookie design one on top of that. LOTS of glue.
This will give you your sandwich look for the wreath.
Next, cut the ribbon into 6″ strips. Length isn’t super important, again, no need to get out the ruler!
Once the glue has dried, pin the ribbon in loops to the back of the wreath. Make sure your pins go into the styrofoam and not just through the cardboard.
Glue the letters onto the front, and add a bow as a finishing touch.
A quick and simple door decoration that’s sure to welcome your cookie loving guests.
This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #OREOCookieBalls #CollectiveBias
I make lots of goodies during the holidays, and love sharing the goodies I make with my friends and family. This year, I decided to invite some friends to join me for a get together at my house, and instead of a traditional cookie decorating party, we had a Girls Night In where we decorated my newest sweet obsession, OREO Cookie Balls.
Because OREO Cookie Balls are so simple to prepare, I was able to do lots of the prep on my own before my guests arrived, so once they got here, we could just concentrate on spending time together and working on a little friendly competition when it came to decorating our OREO Cookie Balls.
Because I didn’t want my guests to spend a bunch of time sitting around waiting for cookie balls to firm up in the freezer, I made the un-coated balls myself the morning of the party.
I had stocked up on packs of OREOs and the needed cream cheese earlier in the week, at Walmart. I also picked up some new seasonal decorations to go with my existing sprinkles collections (It’s a sickness) and everything was ready to go when I was ready to start setting up for the party.
Have you bought OREOs lately? The number of flavor options is almost overwhelming! Peanut butter, mint, golden, birthday cake… I can just imagine the amazing combinations of flavors you could make for your cookie balls!
For my party, though, I stuck to the classic OREO Cookie Ball recipe; our focus would be on decorating to make our mark on the finished product.
4 pkg. (4 oz. each) semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted
MIX cream cheese and cookie crumbs until blended.
SHAPE into 48 (1-inch) balls.
Freeze 10 min.
Dip balls in melted chocolate; place in single layer in shallow waxed paper-lined pan.
CUSTOMIZE it with your own ingredient additions or decorative skills.
REFRIGERATE 1 hour or until firm.
Share and enjoy!
For our party, in addition to regular melted chocolate, I also picked up a selection of candy melts, so I had more than just brown coating for the balls; I chose to have red, green, and white for our holiday-themed party, but you could use any color you choose for your own!
I wanted to have more than just a selection of sprinkles for decoration, so I also had the options to make snowmen, Thanksgiving turkeys, and Christmas tree ornaments. To simplify these instructions and demonstrate them to my guests, I created a printout for them to use, and that they could take home. Click here to download the sheet for yourself: OREO Cookie Ball printable
I wanted to make our house look welcoming for our guests, so I made this cookie party wreath (click for tutorial) to hang on our front door:
In setting out everything, I was concerned about people having access to melted chocolate at the same time, so I set a couple of burners out on the main work table, and set all of the decoration options along a separate table, to leave space for people to move around as they worked.
Once everyone arrived, no one wasted any time jumping into their work…
I loved seeing my friends just kick back and have a little messy fun; we had delicious drinks and snacks, and of course, did lots of sampling of our projects.
I had calculated that I’d be able to send each guest home with about 15 cookie balls; rather than just send them home with a plastic wrap covered paper plate, I stopped at a couple of thrift stores and was able to pick up some great cookie tins for less than $1 apiece; I know that I always appreciate having a tin like that available to transport goodies at this time of year, so it was the perfect solution as a party favor for my guests to get their goodies home.
We had a fantastic time, and even as they were leaving, my guests were brainstorming other flavor combinations they want to try (Golden OREOs and strawberry cream cheese, anyone?) and I know for sure that OREO Cookie Balls will be a new holiday staple in our house.
Heh. The short version. Thing number one, I'm tall. I've been told I should have a warning on my blog, so here it is! I am taller in real life than I appear on the internet.
Want to know more than this "short" version? Click here to read more about me and my family, and for links to some of my favorite posts.