One Recipe, Two Great Cookies! Peanut Blossom & Peanut Butter Cookie Bites

This recipe is adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, 2006 Edition.

I’ve never been happy with the peanut blossom recipe I learned in high school. It was sweet, yet somehow not tasty enough.

I now use this recipe to make both simple peanut butter cookies and peanut blossom bites. Thanks America’s Test Kitchen! Your abiding passion for getting the taste right and making great recipes accessible has helped me so many times!

I make the dough and freeze it, which allows me to enjoy fresh cookies whenever. Using a smaller quantity of dough per cookie than the original recipe lists makes about 50-80 cookies per batch, depending on how parsimonious you’re willing to be with the cookie size. For peanut blossoms, a smaller cookie gives you a higher chocolate-to-cookie ratio. Frozen cookie dough balls, a bag of kisses and baking instructions makes a nice gift.

One Recipe: Peanut Blossom / Peanut Butter Cookie Bites

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 sticks (16tbs) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup extra crunchy peanut butter
  • 2 generous tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk (it adds a little chewiness in my almost-high altitude location)
  • 1 cup salted, dry-roasted peanuts, ground a little in a mini food processor
  • Chocolate kisses (needed for peanut blossoms only, 50-80 if you want to make a full recipe)

Special equipment:

  • Hand mixer
  • Mini food processor
  • Baking parchment
  • 1″ cookie scoop

Prepping:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 (or for my janky oven, 355)
  2. Whisk first four dry ingredients together in a bowl
  3. Grind 1 cup of dry roasted peanuts in the mini-food processor, not super fine
  4. Beat butter & sugars together in a large bowl until well mixed, about three minutes
  5. Beat in peanut butter till fully incorporated, about 30 seconds
  6. Beat in vanilla
  7. Beat in eggs and yolk, one at a time
  8. Reduce mixer to low and slowly add in flour mixture until combined
  9. Mix in ground peanuts

For Peanut Butter Cookie Bites:

  • Use 1″ scoop to place balls onto parchment lined cookie sheet, 12 cookies per sheet
  • Flatten cookies gently with classic criss-cross pattern using a fork
  • Bake for ten minutes
  • Allow cookies to cool on parchment
  • For freezing dough:
    • Scoop balls onto a plate
    • Allow to cool in fridge for 30 minutes, separating layers with wax paper
    • Flatten with a criss-cross
    • Stack flattened cookies in bag, separated by wax paper and freeze
    • To cook, follow above times and temps, no changed needed
    • Note: Dough doesn’t have to be flattened. It’s just cosmetic. So if you’re not sure whether you want to use frozen dough for peanut blossoms or regular cookies, use the instructions below instead.
Peanut Blossom Bites. If you keep the dough scoop smaller, your chocolate-to-cookie ratio is higher.
Peanut Blossom Bites. If you keep the dough scoop smaller, your chocolate-to-cookie ratio is higher.

For Peanut Blossom Bites:

  •  Use 1″ scoop to place scant 1″ balls onto parchment lined cookie sheet, 12 cookies per sheet
  • Bake for nine minutes
  • Unwrap one kiss for each cookie
  • Place unwrapped chocolate kisses in middle of each cookie
  • Bake for two more minutes
  • Allow cookies to finish cooking on sheet for five minutes
  • To chill cookie and chocolate quickly, place on plate in fridge
  • For freezing dough:
    • Scoop balls onto a plate
    • Allow to cool in fridge for 30 minutes, separating layers with wax paper (this helps keep the balls from flattening when you’re wedging them in the freezer)
    • Transfer balls to gallon bag and freeze
    • Keep excess kisses in freezer. You know, if there are actually any.
    • To cook, follow above times and temps, no changed needed

 

45th Birthday Banner

My charming sister was having a 45th birthday party with the theme of 45s (records, people! vinyl!). She’s always had an inclusive, wide-ranging joy in all kinds of music, one of her many enchanting qualities. I couldn’t be there but it was essential to remind her how much she loves me. Enter the birthday banner! This one was easy and fun. And bonus! She cried when she opened it.

You could use this approach for any kind of birthday banner (and I did for a niece’s tiara banner). Here’s how to get this particular one done for maximum impact:

Budget: this was an affordable one because I had most of the supplies around already. I did spend about $3 on some polka dot sticker letters (coupon at Michael’s) and I had to mail the banner, I think for about $6.

Supplies:

  • Colored construction paper
  • Black construction paper
  • Glue stick
  • Hole punch
  • Big sticky letters, enough to write out whatever message you want (scrapbook section of a craft store). Or you could use stencils.
  • Black sharpie
  • Black ribbon or butcher’s string
  • Big envelope if you’re going to send as a card

Get going:

  1. Go online and look up a list of hit songs by year. I like Wikipedia’s. Make a list of the top single for the year by year starting in the year that the birthday girl/boy was born.
  2. Pull out your construction paper and a large salad plate and a jar lid. Or your protractor. Whatever you can use to make a circle. You want a larger circle to be your record and a smaller one to be the label in the center so choose sizes that will be proportionate. Or, if you have an actual 45 around . . .
  3. Trace and cut out your big circles on the black construction paper. You will need:
    • 45 / one for each song +
    • one for each letter or character of your message +
    • one for each space you want to make
  4. Cut the same number of small colored circles. Use lighter colors because you’re going to write on each label. Plus you want it to show up against the black
  5. Write the year for the first year on the colored disc. Under it, write the name of the song, and then the artist. Or make clear labels on your computer to do the same.
  6. Repeat for each year. Keep an eye out for varying the color.
  7. Draw a little black circle in the middle of each “label.” You could also use premade circle stickers
  8. Glue each colored disc to the center of the bigger black disc.

    Here's a single
    Here’s a single. I’m sorry it’s upside down but you get the idea
  9. For your personalized message, glue a blank disc to the black discs, one for each character and spacers. My message was  “Happy 45 XXX {her initials}”
  10. Stick one of the sticky letters on each disc, keeping an eye on varying the color

    Not sure if you can see it but this is what the discs with the message/letters look like
    Not sure if you can see it but this is what the discs with the message/letters look like
  11. Write a personal message on your very last disc. Mine said
    You are a hit every year with me. Love, Siggy
    You are a hit every year with me. Love, etc. (sorry, upside down again)

     

  12. Stack your entire banner in order. This is the hardest part. Position your message discs wherever it works for you. I went about 1/2 into the stack before the “Happy” part went in since I wanted to keep the whole message together but you could mix it up. End with the loving message designed to make your sister tear up.
  13. Punch two holes at the top of each disc, about 1″ down from the top. You’re going to string the banner ribbon through this so you want them wide-ish and positioned at the top
  14. Weave the string/ribbon through the two holes. For some reason it was easiest for me to start from the last disc. Make a loop to make it easy to hang at each end. Go for consistency: either weave the string so it shows on the front or back of all the discs. Make the discs so they overlap slightly but not too much. Your recipient can tighten them up if they want. If you need to add ribbon, just knot it behind one of the discs.

    Here's what the banner looks like strung. It's so long you can't really see it stretched out.
    Here’s what the banner looks like strung. It’s so long you can’t really see it stretched out. Jack Mint is wondering what’s in it for him.
  15. Carefully stack your binder and put it in a manilla or padded envelope. You’re done! Time to deliver!

Have you made a banner? What did you do? Other great birthday ideas?

 

 

 

Rustic fence tip planter

I was lucky enough to score some old cedar fence slats from my local ReStore on the cheap. These were destined to become my decorative shutters, which meant cutting off the dog ear tips.  There wasn’t much to them, maybe six or seven inches but I think of cedar as so precious, I was at loth to put them in the recycle bin.

Time flowed. Spring sprang. As is usual for Spring, outdoor projects floated through my brain. I’d been itching to build some planters but this Spring was not  just a regular one, it was a No Spend Spring, so I was in heavy making do mode. Planters were definitely on the want-not-need list, so I was on lumber restriction for making anything.

One day I was looking at an over-crowded succulent plant pot and the messy little pile of fence tips caught my eye. About 45 minutes later we had:

2015-04-25 16.13.13

This looked incomplete and was a little rickety so I stapled a metal band around for a little extra stability. Hopefully it will rust soon.

Here's the rustic fence tip planter
Here’s the rustic fence tip planter

2015-04-26 09.28.52

If you’ve got old fence tips and want to do something similar, here’s how:

Materials:

  • Fence tips leftover from another project
  • Leftover lumber for base, ideally fir, cedar or something water resistant
  • Nails/nail gun
  • Saw
  • Drill
  • Stapler
  • Metal flashing or other material to create band

Building the planter:

  1. Figure out how big your planter can be given your leftover materials. Mine was about a 16″ square.
  2. Build a simple base. I had leftover fir, which also does well outside so I several pieces, cut them to 16 size, and screwed them into a base
  3. Nail your tips into sides of the base
  4. Drill drainage holes in the base
  5. Staple a metal band or other band to all sides. If it’s too shiny, scratch it up with a wire brush and rinse it in vinegar.
  6. Plant

I love this bad boy! I’ve got it wedged next to the lawn so the succulents can benefit from sprinklers and won’t require much from me. And it’s making me think that maybe a rustic style planter filled with succulents is a good future thrifty gift idea.

Have you cobbled together a planter from found materials? What’s your favorite planter project?

DIY Gift Code

So many folks experience the holiday gifting season as a difficult time that makes them pressured, improvished, and lacking in spirit. When in funds, it’s easy to enjoy shopping for gifts. Yet as my resources have gotten tighter, there are times when that joy seems to recede.

My budget these days dictates that most of my gifts are homemade. Sometimes that means I can’t stretch to something on a beloved’s wish list, which is frustrating. So I wrote myself a little code to help me make peace with what I can do during the holiday gifting season.

When I’m making gifts, I look for projects that will:

  • Be beautiful, tasteful, funny or delicious. Eh doesn’t cut it
  • Be useful
  • Be perfectly imperfect. A DIY gift is not supposed to look like it came off the factory floor. That’s not an invitation to being slapdash about it, but inhuman production standards are just silly
  • Be something I’d want. If not, it’s time to think twice
  • Be easy to deliver: it hurts my soul to spend more on shipping than presents
  • Be fun or satisfying to make. I don’t want anyone to suffer to make me a present. My friends and family don’t want me to suffer either. So if the thought of making a certain item is akin to imagining the third level of hell, it’s time to pick something different
  • Be possible to make in advance. Once holiday season hits, I want to enjoy the season, not be in manufacturing mode. Also, planning in advance is thrifty: buying last minute supplies is a sure way to overspend
  • Cost less to make than to buy new. If not, will my DIY be better built or more charming?
  • Be something I can let go. This is the most important element of any gift, made or purchased. Once the gift is given, I have to commit to zero expectations of how or when the recipient will use it. No roaming their house to check to see where they put it. No queries about what they did with it or instructions about caring for it. Unless they ask, no lengthy description about how hard I worked on it or what was tricky about making it. No demands for extreme gratitude or gushing.

A gift that comes with strings or expectations of appreciation isn’t really a gift for the recipient. It’s more like a demand from the giver to be appreciated. Sure, if a recipient “recycles” my gift instantly or “tucks it away,” my feelings might get a little bruised. But those feelings stay strictly private. As I try to polish up my imperfect soul, I remind myself that the point of giving is an expression of love, not a demand for attention. And that gives me peace.

What about you? Does gift giving make you feel pressured or excited? How do you manage?

Picture Frame Jewelry Organizers: Easy, Pretty and Fun

Hey, we’re almost halfway through the year! If you’ve got a big gift list for the holidays, its time to start thinking DIY now.

This project met all aspects of my DIY gift code, especially these:

  • Pretty
  • Useful
  • Something I’d want
  • Not too heavy to ship
  • Fun to make
  • Possible to make in advance

Jewelry is beautiful art. But when it’s stuck in a box, you don’t get to see it enough. Plus I wanted to cut the clutter on top of my dresser. Enter the picture frame jewelry organizer. I made two for me and loved them so much I decided to make jewelry organizers a main holiday gift for family and friends.

 

Turns out I needed four jewelry organizers . . .
Turns out I needed four jewelry organizers . . .
Necklace jewelry organizer
Necklace jewelry organizer: s hooks are used to hang the necklaces

 

Earring jewelry organizer
Earring jewelry organizer. Ideal for fish hook earrings. S hooks can be used for other types of loops. Won’t work for posts.

 

Budget: to make two for myself with thrifted frames, I spent about $15, excluding the cost of tin snips, so about $7.50 each. But it’s possible to spend more depending on your materials choice. When I got into manufacturing mode and was buying bigger sheets, the cost came down to $3-6 each.

Timing: summer and fall I added empty picture frames to my thrift store check list and accumulated the ones I needed at the right prices. I also started searching for metal sheets/radiator sheets to use in the frames. Since I was spray painting some of the frames, it was most ideal to be able to do this outside, before the cold set in, so that was the urgency in finding the frames. Once it got cold, I hit thrift stores for inexpensive jewelry. For this, the gift was the organizer, not the jewelry, but I wanted to include at least one item with the organizer so the recipients would know what it was.

Shopping list: here’s the snapshot list. Still, do scan the details below to save some cash and time on this project.

  1. Frames without glass
  2. Paint or spray paint (optional)
  3. Radiator grill sheet(s) also known as “metal sheets” or “aluminum sheets.”
  4. Small s hooks (optional, for necklaces)
  5. Thrift store find jewelry
  6. Tin snips or other scissors that easily cut sheet metal

To do these as gifts the way I did, you will need:

  • Frames without glass.  These are sometimes as cheap as $0.50 at thrift stores. I focused on wood, avoiding metals. Go for frames that have a little projection from the wall. Here’s why: you’re going to hang jewelry in the face of the frame so you creating a little distance between front and the wall prevents your earrings from hitting the wall. If you’re going to buy new frames, watch for sales, and make a budget – remember, when you buy new, you’re also paying for glass you don’t need. If you’re shipping gifts, keep manageable size in mind.  The easiest frames to work with are the ones that have little tabs holding the glass in place (see below). You’ll ditch the glass but the tabs are perfect for holding the metal sheet. However, if they don’t have little tabs, you can still wedge the metal sheet inside the frame securely. If you’d like to make a frame, Ana White’s great blog has a post on barnwood frames that would work well for about $1.50 each
  • Paint or spray paint, if you want to change the color. I focused on black and white with a couple of silver frames. For this project, I only used spray paint
  • Radiator grill sheet(s) also known as “metal sheets” or “aluminum sheets.” The sources I used were Michael’s (with a Retailmenot coupon code – but be aware, these are in store and not shown on the Michael’s site. They’re about $11-14 without the coupon for a smallish — about 12″x24″– sheet so bring that coupon!), ACE Hardware (pretty choices though not super cheap, about $25-$30 for a larger sheet), and Home Depot (the most cost effective — $22.78!– for a 3×3′ aluminum sheet but limited pattern choices). These come in both a silver and gold finish. I used silver but the gold is chic these days. What’s right for you will depend on how many you want to make — see below.   Some notes on choosing:.

a) The cloverleaf and star patterns are most readily available and work well. If you choose a pattern with narrower openings like this oriental one below, it can be hard to get earrings with their backers through the spaces. So the tighter patterns are best used for necklaces with small s hooks.

Necklace jewelry organizer. Holes in this pattern are too tight for earrings.
Necklace jewelry organizer. Holes in this pattern are too tight for earrings with backers but little s hooks work fine.

b) Rustic look note: you could use chicken wire for a farmhouse sort of look, either in a single or double layer. This is often very cheap at used building goods outlets. I got a roll for only $3 but the look was less polished and it wasn’t as easy to work with my always-torn up hands as the aluminum sheets.

c) MD is a leading manufacturer of these sheets. They seem to sell mostly through retailers but the choices on their site (page down) are fun to browse.

MD Metal Sheet: this is the spendy version you can get at craft stores like Michael's
MD Metal Sheet: this is the spendy small version you can get at craft stores like Michael’s.
  •  Small s hooks (about $1.20 for a pack of eight at True Value). You need these if you want to use your organizer to hang necklaces.
  • Thrift store find jewelry: for earrings, you want fish hook style.
  • Tin snips or other scissors that can cut thin metal (available at craft and home improvement stores). I kinda balked at investing in tin snips but I am glad now that I did: I seem to use mine for something every week. Here’s where a Retailmenot coupon at Michael’s also is a big help (about $7.50 with a 50% off coupon). These are also available from home stores and Amazon (here are my Tekton snips on Amazon, about $9).

Let’s get started: The basics of this project are that you’re going to replace any glass with a metal sheet cut to slightly over the size of the frame opening. It’s that simple! A step-by-step follows.

  1. Take your frame and get it clean and pretty: pop out any glass and set aside
  2. If you’re painting you frame, do it now
  3. If your frame came with a mat, use that as your pattern to measure out the size to cut your metal sheet insert, adding 1/4 inch on each side. If no mat, measure your frame’s opening and add 1/2 inch to your measurement on each side. Basically you want a 1/4 inch excess on all sides so it fits securely in the opening. Also, this gives you the chance to let the metal protrude from the frame a little, which can look and work great.  If you’re cutting multiple inserts, lay as many out as possible on your metal sheet so you can eyeball how it all fits together as shown below:
    Here's mats are laid out on the sheet to make sure we get as many as possible out of one sheet.
    Here mats are laid out on the sheet to make sure we get as many as possible out of one sheet.

    Use a pen to mark off one insert at a time or just do a quick snip with your tin snips and cut along the line. Remember to go slightly big since you can always make it smaller later. Also, do one at a time instead of tracing them all at once. As you cut, things will shift slightly and you don’t want unnecessary marks, especially if you’re using a Sharpie!

  4. Cut your inserts using your tin snips

    Golly I love my tin snips!
    Golly I love my tin snips!
  5. Install your inserts into each frame from the back. If there are any little mat holders, flip them back down to keep the sheet firmly in place.

    Notice how the inserts that used to hold the mat in now hold the metal sheet
    Notice how the little black tab inserts that used to hold the mat in now hold the metal sheet?
  6. You are done. No joke.Silver painted frame

    Jewelry organizers, ready to wrap
    Jewelry organizers, ready to wrap

One more note: you might end up with some extra strips of the flat metal sheets. Hang onto them! They can be used to wrap a votive or for other small projects.

So what about you? What’s your favorite DIY holiday gift this year? Do you struggle with mass production AND personalization the way I do?

Note: the links here are for your convenience. No compensation to me for either the supplier listings or following the links.