How To Successfully Bake Christmas Cookies With Kids

I’ve been baking cut out cookies with my kids for 32 years.  It’s one of my favorite things to do!

Several years ago I created a suggested plan for baking Christmas cookies with kids of ALL ages. That’s what I’m sharing with you today!

Through many disappointments and trials and errors, I’ve finally learned how to do it well at every stage of mothering and grandmothering.

Let me share my secrets with you!

 

Here’s the recipe I use:

Cut-Out Cookies

1/2 c. Crisco
1 stick butter
1 c. sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
3-1/2 c. of flour  (I usually add more until the dough isn’t sticky)

(I’m currently looking for a clean Christmas cut out cookie recipe–if you have a proven one send it my way!)

Chill 1 hour.  Roll 1/4″ thick with rolling pin. (I disinfect my kitchen island and roll the dough right on the counter top. Make sure and flour the surface you are rolling on and flour the rolling pin–just rub flour all over it–so the dough doesn’t stick)

Use cookie cutters for shapes.  Bake 400 degrees for 6-8 minutes until shine is off (do not overcook–you don’t want them brown on the edges).

Icing

2 sticks butter (softened–I leave the sticks on the counter for about 30 min)
4-1/2 – 4-3/4 c. powdered sugar (I usually add more until it peaks when you mix it)
1/2 c. milk
1-1/2 tsp vanilla or peppermint (we use peppermint!)

Beat butter to fluffy and add 1/2 of the powdered sugar. Add milk and vanilla and rest of sugar.  Divide into smaller bowls and add food coloring as desired (we usually do red, green, blue, yellow, and white)

Note: Cookies can be frozen either before icing or after icing, if you want to decorate or eat at a later time.

Here’s how to successfully make cut-out cookies with kids of any age:

Preschool Years: 
1) Day 1: You make and chill dough while they are napping.
2) Day 2: You cut out and bake cookies while they are napping.
3) Day 2 or 3: You make icing and ice the cookies
4) Your preschooler can put sprinkles on while the icing is still wet.
5) Enjoy eating, giving away, and sharing the yummy cookies you made!

Grade School Years 
1) You make and chill the dough
2) You roll out the dough and let them use the cookie cutters to cut out the shapes
3) You put them in the oven.
4) Once all the cookies are cool, the kids and you can ice them and decorate with sprinkles.  (this can also be done on the next day if cookies are stored in an airtight container.)
5) Enjoy!

Note: Grade school years is a great time to teach your kids to make cookies from scratch. Since Christmas cookies have five parts to them–1) making the recipe  2) chilling the dough  3) rolling the dough and cutting the cookies  4) baking the cookies  5) decorating the cookies—I find this isn’t the best time to teach them to bake.  The process is too long and they are impatient to get to the cutting out and decorating.  Teach them to follow a recipe some other time with something like Chocolate Chip cookies or Oatmeal Raisin Cookies that you just mix up, bake, and eat!

cookie collageJunior High/High School Years
1) You make and chill the dough (if you have a teen that wants to do that, let them!)
2) You show them how to roll out the dough and cut out the cookies, then let them do it themselves!
3) You help with the baking.
4) Enjoy decorating the cookies with your family!

Even when the dough is already made and chilled, it’s usually about a 3 hour process to roll out the dough, cut out the cookies, bake, and decorate them. That’s why I’m a believer in already having the dough made and chilled no matter the age of the kids! 

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The #1 Reason You Don’t Reach Your Goals

ThinkstockPhotos-82173239I’ll just put this here and put it away later.

I’ll just sleep in this morning and go to the gym tomorrow morning.

I’ll just have one handful of M&M’s.

I’ll just fold the laundry tomorrow. 

Rationalizing. We all do it. It’s a coping mechanism when we’re overwhelmed. It’s a lazy response when we don’t want to put out the effort we need to. It’s an emotional response we back up with logic.  Most importantly, it’s a lie that holds us hostage and keeps us from reaching our goals.

If we break up the word rationalize, it becomes “rational lies” which are exactly what we tell ourselves in a moment of decision. Rationalizing keeps us stuck where we are.

Got clutter? It’s a result of the lie that says, “I’ll put it away later.”

Can’t stay on a healthy eating plan? It’s because we lie to ourselves that “one cookie won’t matter.”

Can’t make it to the gym? That’s because of the lie that says, “I’ll do that tomorrow.”

Did you make a New Year’s resolution?  If you did and you’re not doing so well with it, it’s probably because you’ve rationalized each time you’ve come face to face with the decision to do the thing you said you wanted to do.

I’m personally acquainted with these lies because I’ve used them myself. In fact, I’m a reformed messy. When I decided that my messiness bothered me and I really wanted to live differently, I didn’t have to start new habits. Instead, I had to come face to face with my thought processes. That’s where I discovered how often I was lying to myself!

Want to stop telling yourself “rational lies?”  Here are three steps I’ve found helpful:

  • Watch out for those two little words, “I’ll just…”. You might say them aloud or you might say them in your head. Regardless of how you say them, start paying attention to their existence in your vocabulary. When you hear them, allow an alarm to go off in your head.
  • Don’t believe the lie. Instead of telling yourself “I’ll just put this away later,” simply take the 10 extra steps to put it away now. Instead of saying, “I’ll just sleep in in this morning,” push through your sleepy fog and get out of bed.
  • Smile at your accomplishment. Give yourself an “atta girl” or atta boy” moment of encouragement knowing that you pushed through the lie and did what you needed to do.

Each time you identify a “rational lie,” push through it, and do what you need to do, you’ll be on your way to living the life you want to live!

What about you? Can you identify when you rationalize and how doing so keeps you from reaching your goals? 

Fantastic Food: Leeks

ThinkstockPhotos-87971234Several years ago when we were hosting a young man from Poland, he wanted to make a traditional Polish meal for our family. I took him to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients he needed and he asked me where the leek’s were.

This leek came straight out of my garden.

This leek came straight out of my garden.

I had no idea. I’d never heard of a leek.

Fast forward five years and my post-cancer change in cooking.  I’ve been reading about the nutritional value of whole foods and leeks jumped to the front of the list for antioxidants, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and Vitamin A.  They also contain small amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

What is a leek? It’s a member of the onion family.  Think of it as a big green onion.

 

Simply wash off the dirt, peel a couple of the outer thin layers away, cut off the roots and you're ready to roll!

Simply wash off the dirt, peel a couple of the outer thin layers away, cut off the roots and you’re ready to roll!

This year I chose to grow leeks in my garden and have been using them anytime I would use an onion. They are not nearly as strong smelling as onions. You won’t cry when cutting them up.

When you buy leeks in the store, they still have their thick green leaves on them. You simply cut those off and discard.

Then you use primarily the white and a little of the green above the white to chop and use in any recipe that calls for onions.

I use them in soups, stir fry, sauteeing vegetables, and more!  You can even throw them into salads raw.

Slice, chop, and enjoy!

Slice, chop, and enjoy!

What about you? Have you ever used leeks?  How do you prepare them and what recipes do you use them in?  

Fantastic Food: Eggplant

Fresh long purple aubergine on blue table closeup top viewThe first time I remember eating eggplant was when my mother made Eggplant Parmesan growing up. I confess it wasn’t my favorite meal.  Because of that, I’ve stayed away from eggplant until recently.

eggplant2

Yesterday’s harvest!

 

 

I decided to give it a second chance after finding some marked down plants at the local nursery. I brought them home and planted them in my garden. Mark and I are both LOVING eggplant, which is a good thing since we’ve had a very plentiful harvest!

Eggplant is so good for you! It’s a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B1, and copper, as well as manganese, vitamin B6, niacin, potassium, folate, and vitamin K.

Eggplants are quite perishable. You’ll want to use them within a few days of buying or picking them.

So how do you use them? Here are a few ideas:

  • Peel and then dice up to add to any vegetable stirfry. This is yummy!
  • eggplantSaute with onions and tomatoes.  If you’re eating dairy, you can top it with mozzarella cheese. This is a stovetop version of eggplant parmesan.  (We’re not eating dairy, so we just enjoy it with onions and tomatoes.) Season with salt and pepper.
  • Bake the eggplant for about 30 minutes–until it begins to collapse.  Remove from oven and scrape out the inside. This can be added to spaghetti sauce for added flavor and fiber.
  • Cut the eggplant in thick slices, season as you wish, and grill them!
  • Peel the eggplant, slice into fries, season, and bake them!
  • Slice the eggplant and use the slices as crust for mini pizzas, adding your favorite pizza toppings and baking for about 10 minutes.  (The first time I served this to my 19-year-old, he said,”I don’t think I’ll like this.” Then he ate 6 mini pizzas and declared how good they were!)

If you’ve never tried eggplant, pick one up at the store and give it a try!  It’s a fantastic food full of nutrition your body needs!

What about you? Do you have a favorite way to prepare eggplant? 

Fantastic Food: Kale

ThinkstockPhotos-482001077Last summer I fell in love with kale after we grew it in our garden and it produced from mid-summer until Thanksgiving!

Kale is a good source of Dietary Fiber, Protein, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. It’s a superfood!

Some people think kale is bitter, but I’ve found that it just depends on the kind of kale you get.  Regardless, there are still wonderful ways to make kale that takes care of any bitter taste.

I love to throw kale into soup and smoothies. When I make vegetable soup or chicken noodle soup, I chop up the kale to the consistency of parsley and throw it into the soup! When I make a smoothie, I throw some kale in to add veggies to my fruit smoothie (I’m not a green smoothie girl….just can’t drink a green smoothie that tastes more like veggies than fruit!)

I love to mix kale in with spinach and lettuce for a yummy salad.  I add diced apples, raisins, sunflower seed kernals, peppers, and just about anything else I can find to my salads.  I top them off with Flax Seed Oil and flavored vinegar from The Olive Bin (my favorite is Black Mission Fig!)

I also make a cold kale salad that is yummy! I have taken it to pitch in dinners before and people always rave about it. They can’t believe it when I tell them it’s a kale salad.  I don’t measure anything…just throw in a bowl: chopped kale (see below how to remove it from the stem), cucumbers, raisins, slivered almonds, sunflower kernels (if I have them), and tomato. I then squeeze a lemon over the salad, squirt some olive oil (flavored if I have it—love Blood Orange!) and a little bit of flavored balsamic (Black Cherry is a great flavor for this salad!) Toss together and serve. Yum!

You can also saute kale on the stovetop. It will really cook down so start with a lot. I add in slivered almonds, diced peppers, and any other veggie I have that can be sauteed (carrots, yellow squash, zucchini, kohlrabi, etc).  Sometimes I just do kale, onions, garlic, and slivered almonds.  I season it with salt and pepper and sometimes paprika, cumin, or turmeric (an excellent anti-inflammatory when paired with pepper!)

Kale is a yummy veggie that can be used in so many ways!

Cut or break the kale from the stem.

Cut or break the kale from the stem.

Saute with garlic, onion, and olive oil or coconut oil. If you have balsamic vinegar, throw some in...especially flavored balsamic.  Yum!

Saute with garlic, onion, and olive oil or coconut oil. If you have balsamic vinegar, throw some in…especially flavored balsamic. Yum!

Add some slivered almonds and serve!

Add some slivered almonds and serve!

What about you? Do you have a favorite way to prepare kale?

Fantastic Food: Green Beans

ThinkstockPhotos-dv1356071We’ve had a wonderful harvest of green beans this summer!  Whether it’s garden harvest or fresh beans from the grocery store, I’ve grown to prefer fresh beans over canned or frozen beans (although canned or frozen beans are perfectly fine to eat!)

Fresh green beans are pretty easy to prepare; they take just a little time to cook. Simply break off the end of the beans and break the beans into the size you want. This is a great project for your kids to help with. I’ve had many conversations with my kids over the years as we sat together breaking fresh beans!

green beansOnce, the beans are broken, boil them in salted water for 20-30 minutes, based upon the tenderness you prefer.  I usually start testing them at 20 minutes with a fork.

The key to yummy green beans is adding bacon grease. I know it sounds odd to say that…but it makes a ton of difference!  We now buy the Naked Bacon brand of bacon because it contains no sugar, nitrates, phosphates, or preservatives. It’s definitely more expensive, but if we’re going to do bacon, we’re choosing a healthier option.

Every time we make bacon, I throw the grease in a glass jar and put it in the freezer. I just keep adding more grease to the glass jar until it’s full.  When I make green beans, I add a couple of heaping tablespoons of the bacon grease to the beans. So yummy!

How about you? How do you prepare fresh green beans?

Fantastic Food: Bell Peppers

ThinkstockPhotos-481247983My husband loves to eat bell peppers raw. He just slices them up and enjoys!

I’ve not always been a fan of bell peppers, and I don’t particularly care for them raw, but I’ve learned to love them in stir fry or sauteed  vegetables. Last night I made cauliflower rice (that will be next week’s Fantastic Food!) and added diced bell peppers to it. Not only did it add flavor and color, but it added so many additional nutrients!

Bell Peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C (more than twice the amount of vitamin C in an orange!) and they offer a very broad range of antioxidants.  Not only that, but they’re pretty! The more color you have on your plate, the more nutrient and antioxidant power you have in your food.

Peppers are a pretty commonly used vegetable so I may not be introducing you to something new. However, you might not know that peppers are one of the easiest vegetable to freeze. You need to know this even if you don’t have a garden because you can take advantage of “pepper season” at the grocery store.

If you’re going to freeze most veggies, you have to blanch them to stop the actions of enzymes.  However, bell peppers don’t have to be blanched. Just cut them up, bag them, and throw them in the freezer!

I love this for two reasons:

peppers1) I have instant diced peppers. I just pull the bag out of the freezer, squeeze it to separate the frozen diced peppers, pull out however much I need, and throw the rest of the peppers back in the freezer.

2) I can take advantage of sales. Right now you can find pretty good prices on bell peppers–yellow, red, orange, and green. In the winter, however, the prices go up. I can buy peppers now at great prices (or harvest them from my garden), wash them, dice them, and throw them in the freezer to use over the next few months!

Add some color to your food this week with bell peppers! While you’re at it, dice up some extra and throw it in the freezer. It will make reaching the goal of eating 27  different vegetables a week so much easier! (And yes, if you use four different colored peppers, that’s four different veggies…if you’re counting!)

Fantastic Food: Kohlrabi

k 2Since my breast cancer journey, our family has slowly been changing our eating habits. Cancer has a way of making you think about what you put in your body more intentionally.

When I finished my treatment a year ago, my oncologist told me, “You now need to take three steps to do everything in your power to stay healthy:

1) Eat nutritionally
2) Exercise regularly
3) Keep your weight down and in a healthy range.

Initially I met with the dietitian at the Cancer Center and she gave me great insight into both food and spice choices. I would take in my food log and she’d help evaluate it. I was great about incorporating fruit into my diet but she told me that I really needed to up the vegetables.  One book I read post-cancer stated that for the best cancer-protecting diet, you need to eat 27 different vegetables every week! I thought, “Do I even know of 27 different vegetables?”

At first the transition was slow and frustrating. Both of my daughters were also changing how their family ate so I was learning a lot from both of them.  However, it wasn’t until January when Mark and I decided to do Whole 30 that we really turned the corner and made big changes.  I emptied my refrigerator and pantry of anything that had preservatives, additives, gluten, legumes, and refined sugar. Both were nearly bare!

Then I started to learn how to shop and cook differently.  Fresh vegetables, lean meats, fruit, and nuts….that’s about all we eat now. We’ve added legumes (peanuts and beans) back into our diet on a limited basis, but have pretty much maintained a gluten-free, sugar-free, preservative-free diet.

I never thought I’d actually enjoy this, but I am!  It is challenging me to think differently, make better choices, and learn new skills. Mark and I are both down over 20 lbs each and are still losing slowly. I feel better than ever and am back to my pre-cancer energy level.

I am often asked about the food changes we’ve made. I know many people want to make changes but just don’t know where to start.  So once a week I’m going to do my best to share a Fantastic Food post.  If you’re wanting to make some changes in your family’s diet, just try one new thing a week.

Today’s fantastic food is kohlrabi.  I’d never even heard of kohlrabi until our daughter planted it in the garden!  Our first kohlrabi were harvested a few weeks ago and I have fallen in love with it!

k 1Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family. It is a mild tasting vegetable that is VERY versatile.  It’s also quite inexpensive. In fact, it’s so inexpensive, we’ve decided we probably won’t grow our own anymore. At my local Meijer store I can buy a bunch of 3 kohlrabi for anywhere from $1.50/bunch to $1.99/bunch. (I paid more than $1 a plant for the garden which produced only one kohlrabi bulb!)  You can most likely find kohlrabi at your local farmer’s market this time of the year, too!

What do you do with kohlrabi?  Well first you wash it and then peel off the thick outer-most layer of the bulb. The outer layer is a little greener than the white inside of the bulb.  You can either peel it with a vegetable peeler or you can slice the kohlrabi and then use a knife to peel the outside layer off each slice.

Because we are not eating bread and Mark takes his lunch everyday, he now uses slices of raw kohlrabi in place of bread.  We buy nitrate-free, preservative free deli meat (Boar’s Head brand is what we get) and he makes his yummy sandwiches with kohlrabi, sliced tomatoes, and turkey.

We also cut up raw kohlrabi and add it to our salads.  You can also shred it and make slaw. (I make my own slaw with flavored vinegar and oil.)  Steamed, it can be added to stir fry or soup.

k 3You can also cut it into slices or fries, toss it in olive oil, add spices like garlic powder, red pepper, salt, pepper, basil (basically any spice you have on the shelf!) and grill it (see photo above) or roast it for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees.  We love it this way! Sometimes I cut up kohlrabi and sweet potato into fries, toss them both in olive oil, sprinkle with spices, and cook together. Everyone loves them!

If you’re looking to expand your family’s veggie experience, give kohlrabi a try!

What about you? Do you have any ways you like to use kohlrabi?