Category / Good Eats

Sugar Cookie Decorating Tips & Supplies

In recent years, I’ve gotten pretty into the decorated cookie craze. I love any artsy project, but these happen to work year-round for a sweet treat and they are wonderful to gift. It’s a relatively inexpensive hobby and the cost is your time, not so much money — I’d guess I have MAYBE a hundred bucks in ALL my supplies I’ve collected over the past several years. (Okay, that’s assuming you already have basic baking stuff on hand like a mixer and cookie sheets.)

Today, I wanted to share my favorite tips and tools for decorating (full disclosure: I’m not a professional baker, I just do this for fun!) as well as my favorite icing and dough recipe (after many, MANY rounds of trial and error!).

BAKING THE COOKIES

Let’s start with the cookie. I love THIS recipe for my sugar cookies – the shape you cut out won’t bloat or expand much, what you see is what you’ll get! I follow it exactly, and to her point, I’ve frozen the dough before when I make extra batches, but do let it come ALL the way to room temp before you start working with it. By far, it works best to whip it up and use it right then without storing/cooling time.

I keep a stash of cutters in our pantry (they double as sandwich cutters for Crew’s lunches, too). I have holiday-specific ones, but a favorite year-round set has been this alphabet set as Crew wants to spell his name or it’s fun to gift someone a little set of cookies that spell out “JOY” or “LOVE” or “BOO” depending on the time of the year.

You can roll your dough out on your floured counter, (I use a regular wooden rolling pin, nothing fancy) but Page specifically cut a giant piece of pine to perfectly fit one half of our island and sanded it super smooth. We originally wanted it for rolling out pasta dough, but it doubles as my cookie surface now. At the recommendation of the chef we learned to make pasta from, we picked up a large drywall trowel that we only use in the kitchen to scrape off caked-on dough and extra flour when we’re done (genius). My exact cookie sheets are no longer available but these are identical (the textured surface makes it nearly impossible to end up with stuck-on cookies) and to keep them nice, I only use them for baked goods (we have separate baking sheets for pizza, snacks, and anything else). Of course, use ALL the flour when cutting out your cookies – I dip my cutters in it, and keep it liberally sprinkled everywhere, rubbing it onto the surface, the dough, and the rolling pin every so often.

MAKING AND COLORING THE ICING

I won’t lie — baking the cookies is the easy part, but I also thinks it’s the less fun. Now you get to be creative! I first learned some basic techniques in a local bakery cookie class. I went home and practiced, and have evolved how I do the next part, so I’ll share both ways below. First, you need some royal icing. Again, after MANY different tested recipes, I like THIS recipe because it dries firm enough to stack your cookies, but not rock hard like so many versions (you want them to look AND taste good!). They have the slightest shine to them when they dry, and there’s no egg white like some, so you don’t have to worry about them sitting out.

After you’ve whipped up your batch of frosting, divide it into bowls, depending on how many colors you want to use. (I use Pinterest all the time to get inspo on color palette, and I pick out a handful of cutters I know I want to use, and determine my colors accordingly.) Your icing, well covered, has a shelf life of about a month, so I’ve gotten in the habit of mixing each color directly in a food storage container with a lid, so I can keep any leftovers if I want to. I’ve tried a few kinds of food coloring and have come to love these the best. Tip: you will need WAY more red and black compared to the others to get a true red or black, so I buy the bigger bottles of those colors. It was a game-changer to learn that to get an even wider color palette, you can add ivory food coloring to your pure-white icing to get a whole bunch of softer colors.

Piping and Flooding

This is how I originally learned to frost and it’s how I frosted the IOWA cookies, above. For this technique you’ll need icing bags and a basic icing tip and couplers for each bag/color you plan to use (this video can explain how to to put your tip on your icing bag better than I can explain in writing.) You can play around with different tips, but I always go back to the no.3 as my sweet spot. You’ll also need a few squeeze bottles (I’ve used and like both this style and these).

For each color of icing you’ve made, you’re going to divide it in half. Spatula half of it as-is (thick) into an icing bag and tie it off with a rubber band or I do like these to hold them closed. With the remaining half of each color, add a few drops of water and remix, SLOWLY adding more water until the icing is the consistency of runny glue. Once you have that, pour it into a squeeze bottle. NOTE: I once did this out of order and split up my icing BEFORE I’d colored it — you want to color it first so it’s consistent and matches perfectly. Huge headache to try and do this after you’ve split it up!

Start with your piping icing (in the bag) and outline your cookie or the portion of the cookie you want in that color. It should be nice and stiff and hold its outline shape. Take your matching flooding (squeeze bottle) icing and outline JUST inside your piped icing, getting as cloooose as possible even overlapping a tiny bit without going outside your line. Once you’ve done a full outline, just squeeze all over “flooding” and filling in your outline. It feels extra, but this tool is INVALUABLE in popping any air bubbles you might get while flooding before they dry.

All-At-Once

I did the piping and flooding method for a long time and still sometimes do if I need super precise detail. But in the batch above, as a time and clean-up saver, I’ve also tried for ONE icing color consistency just a tad thicker than the glue and as my hands have gotten steadier, I just pipe the thick-flooding as my outline and fill right in from there. This definitely takes practice and if it’s even the slightest bit too watery, it’s a hot mess (and no I hadn’t yet popped air bubbles in the shot above ha!). But I mention this option for anyone wanting to try!

To finish it off, I love some sprinkles or simply dragging toothpicks through the icing to make pretty designs. There are zillions of YouTube videos on simple decorating techniques once you’ve got the basic icing down. A favorite sprinkle look (seen in the footballs above) is a clear piping gel design, then sprinkle a sugar on top and shake off the excess.

Happy decorating and of COURSE be sure to taste test throughout the process! 😉

The Best Lunch-Packing Products

As a follow-up to my favorite toddler/preschooler-sized backpacks, I’m turning my attention to all things lunch-related as we enter the first week of the school year. We don’t often have to provide a lunch yet, but as we approach kindergarten (say whaaa?!) I’m paying attention to my oh-so-smart mama friends who have all the best recommendations. I do pack my own lunch for work frequently, and have used a similar style lunch box and the silicone cups to keep things separate. And some of these things make lunches at home with littles that much more fun to prepare.

  1. We love this set of cutters — that includes sandwich cutters (who wants crust, anyway?!) little ones that are fun for fruit and cheese slices.
  2. Genius move by parents everywhere to use these little silicone cups to keep foods separate within lunches. (I personally like them to hold almonds and other stuff I want to stay “crunchy” on top of my salads until I’m ready to eat.)
  3. I love the idea of Bento boxes for kids because they hate when stuff “touches” — I like the price point of this box, and as my neighbor so smartly pointed out — you can afford to purchase a week’s worth, pack and stack them all in one night in the fridge, and have ZERO to do all week long.
  4. We’ve been using this stainless water bottle since shortly after Crew was off bottles. They are indestructible and great at keeping cold drinks cold (perfect for all-day summer outings). I’m picky about water bottles because they MUST be easy to clean — this one is my winner.
  5. I love the idea of these pre-printed lunchbox notes! They don’t make much sense until your kiddos are at a reading age, but I love the idea that they don’t require as much time to prepare, but still offer a touchpoint of “I’m thinking about you!” during their school day.

And if you’re looking for some lunch-packing inspiration, here are a couple of my favorite sources:

  • Lunchbox brand, Lunchbots, has a great Instagram feed full of ideas
  • My friend, Lisa, shares her healthy and creative ideas over at Love You Lunches

5 Little Things I’m Doing to Improve My (and My Family’s) Health

Between the start of the year (resolution/goals mindset) and the coming of Spring (well, someday! we are due more SNOW this week!), I’ve been more health/goal minded and craving some changes and healthier habits in my (and my family’s) day-to-day routines. I’ve found I have more success implementing smaller changes, a couple at a time, than trying to overhaul, getting overwhelmed (or distracted) and undoing any good I’ve done, altogether.

I’m no expert, and I don’t sell or represent any brands mentioned, but I’m feeling really good about these five little things I’m making the rule instead of the exception in my everyday:

1. packing my lunches
I’ve been trying to be more intentional about including more fruits and veggies and proteins, and not buying my lunches out (which adds up quickly) on workdays. It truly is easier to dedicate a half hour or so on Sunday nights to portion out some lunches for the next three days. I find it easiest to just eat the same thing, times three, and change it up from week to week rather than daily. I quickly realized I was burning through ziploc bags, so I ordered myself one of the Lunchbots tins (mine is the “trio large”) and I LOVE how easy it is to pack, rinse, and re-use from one day to the next. (Also — if you follow the Lunchbots instagram account, it’s full of fresh snack/meal ideas for packing adult and kid lunches, alike!)

2. switching to natural deodorant
Over Christmas, a friend mentioned loving this brand of natural deodorant and I made a mental note. Then, after another friend’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, she mentioned making the switch to a natural deodorant, and I was inspired to do the same. Ursa Major happened to be the first brand I tried and I’ve been VERY pleased. I haven’t had much in the way of “detox symptoms” that some people talk about, but I think it’s also probably easier to make the switch now before the heat season comes. I also just think this particular brand is THAT good and worth the money. I’m kind of  obsessed with it and love the smell and tingly sensation. It feels so fresh and I love knowing everything in it is SAFE. (Also — if your skin is sensitive to baking soda — common in natural deodorants — they also make a “no B.S.” version here.)

3. throwing out our vegetable oil (and peanut oil and canola oil)
A friend of mine is a nutritionist and I’ve been stalking – er, following – all her delicious recipes and posts here. When she mentioned getting vegetable oils out of your life, I was intrigued and googled a bit further. This article is a great read on why to make the switch, if you need further convincing! And this change was SO easy to do. I simply tossed what we had, bought an olive oil spray in place of Pam for nonstick uses, and the mega jar of Coconut Oil home from Costco for anything else that would normally call for oil. I find myself checking labels a bit more for instances of these oils, but I’m not overly crazy about it. Again, it’s about small steps and implementing changes at reasonable rates.

4. experimenting with natural household products 
I’ve admittedly found it a bit “hippie” in the past, but after so many new options on the market and constant new research to support them, I’ve taken a new interest in the products I bring into my home. I recently played around on the Think Dirty app to score some items we’re already using. Some passed with flying colors…and others failed miserably. So I feel like I have a good list of places to start using up and replacing sooner than later. I’ve always been rather intentional about choosing natural products when it comes to Crew, but even in that arena, as we’ve moved away from the “baby phase” it gets easier to slip up. I’ve recently purchased this body wash for his bathtime and love it (we did the lavender scent, but they’re all delicious). We also switched to Trader Joes all natural laundry detergent (loooove the smell). Easy swaps, little changes.

I’ve also been playing more and more with essential oils (I’m not loyal to any one brand, but do your research to make sure you are buying 100% pure, therapeutic grade and no filler stuff). I ditched dryer sheets long ago and now add a few oil drops to my wool dryer balls and incorporating them into rollerballs (I’m using these) and a couple DIY cleaners, linen sprays, and more (in these bottles). I’m still learning and experimenting, but I’m particularly interested in using them for allergy relief as that season approaches.

5. drinking apple cider vinegar 
This is not a new one for me, but I fall out of the habit and am being intentional about reincorporating it. I’ve been trying to cut back on alcohol, so instead of taking a glass of wine to my nightly Netflix wind-down, I pour a big glass of ice water and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. A run-down of the many benefits of incorporating this (easy peasy) habit into water you are already drinking can be found here.

Post contains affiliate links.

Super Bowl Sandwiches (Updated!)

Super Bowl Sandwiches | lifeinyellow.com

I first blogged about these mouth-watering sammies a few years ago. After making them about a bajillion times since then, I’ve updated the recipe just a tad, and included a couple little tips I’ve found helpful — although these are SO easy you really can’t screw them up! These are perfect if you’re looking for an easy Super Bowl recipe for Sunday!

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Melted swiss, hot ham, sweet Hawaiian rolls and seasoned buttah (er, butter) and you have yourself a ready-in-thirty crowd pleaser! (Scroll to bottom for full recipe!)

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  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Melt your butter in the microwave, then whisk in all other ingredients (except, of course, the ham and cheese and rolls).

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2. Slice your Hawaiian rolls, keeping them in a whole “sheet” right down the middle and drizzle half your butter-mixture on top of the “bottom” half of the sheet.

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3. Layer on slices of swiss and ham and put the “top” sheet on your rolls back on top. NEW TIP: I’ve learned that the very center rolls’ cheese doesn’t melt as well, so after I get these all assembled, I slide them down the middle to let a little more heat in.

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4. Drizzle those bad boys with the other half of the butter mixture. Cover with foil and pop in the oven. NEW TIP: I’ve bumped the cook time up to 25 minutes, but check at 20. Nothing bums me out more than to find the cheese isn’t gooey enough, three bites in!

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Note: If you want to keep these warm for an extended period of time (although damn, they’re tasty even when they’ve cooled), set your crock pot to warm and under-bake them initially by a couple minutes. We’ve taken these to a couple of tailgates this way and the crock pot method kept them perfectly gooey until they were gone! 

Also — yes, there are twelve rolls in a package, and mine are only nine. A certain toddler in my house is ob.sessed. with Hawaiian rolls, so I got what I got… 😉

Super Bowl Sandwiches (a.k.a. “Crack Sammies”)

1 package Hawaiian Sweet Rolls
1 package thin sliced deli ham
1 package sliced swiss cheese
1 stick of butter
2 tsp onion powder
3 Tbsp dijon or spicy brown mustard
1 Tbsp worchestershire sauce
3 tsp poppy seeds

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes (check at 20). ENJOY!

cooking for baby.

cooking for baby - resources and recipes | www.lifeinyellow.com

Since early in my pregnancy, I geeked out over the thought of making my own baby food. I’m not an amazing cook, but I love to dabble in the kitchen. I also love the idea of raising a veggie lover like his mama (hopefully!). And something about chopping up fresh produce, mashing it up, and organizing it in portions is just weirdly therapeutic for me. I do think you have to pick and choose priorities so you don’t lose your sanity — I’m not a cloth diaper or make-my-own-wipes mother, nor am I doing any of the other millions of less-than-convenient Pinterest trends out there, but this was one I was definitely on board with.

To begin, I wasn’t sure what I really needed and what I could do without, or where to start as far as what babies can eat when and which fruits and veggies were easiest to begin with. Following is my diving-in recap and some tips and links to things I found helpful!

cooking for baby - resources and recipes | www.lifeinyellow.com

After a friend and her baby introduced me to them, I registered for pieces of the Infantino ‘Fresh Squeezed’ line and have come to be a huge fan of this line. I don’t personally think you need ALL of it – but the press itself, the bags of course, and the attachable spoons all made their way to my house. Doesn’t Crew look super impressed with me??!

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The other half of my toolkit is from OXO. I was gifted a couple of the ice cube trays (to freeze 1 oz portions of whatever I make a batch of). The OXO steamer basket was another favorite purchase. I love that the trays have lids (easy to stack and save space), and that the steamer basket fits like a glove around various pot sizes.

cooking for baby - resources and recipes | www.lifeinyellow.com

As opposed to the pouches which are easy to send to daycare or just take on the go in general, the cubes will be what we likely use most at home.

Next it was finding the recipes. I had pinned a few online, but I really wanted to just understand a bit more about baby nutrition overall and how it corresponds with development. (Yes, geek alert.) I ordered a couple different baby cookbooks, but Cooking for Baby has become far and away, my favorite.

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I love the color illustrations, the simple beginner recipes, and the progression in each chapter explaining as baby grows, how their palette expands and what to introduce and when. I also like the footnotes around each recipe with extra bits of trivia and serving/preserving tips.

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I began with zucchini and pears. I bought both from the organic section, fresh, in my grocery store, but I have since learned to get the frozen version from Costco whenever possible – homemade baby food is already a huge savings, but to buy it frozen in bulk is an even bigger money-saver. So far, from the organic freezer section, I’ve done a batch of peas, and a blend of mangoes and blueberries.

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For now, I’m testing out recipes to see what’s easy to make, and to just learn a bit about how to best batch-cook and preserve everything. For now, Crew is only taking a little rice cereal here and there, and I’m stashing a few options in the freezer until he hits six months. Stay tuned for his hopefully rave reviews! 😉

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fall cider mocktail

fall cider mocktail | life in yellow

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe. In part, because the first weeks of this pregnancy left me wanting to do anything but deal with food, and in part because the “kitchenette” in our temporary digs houses about 10% of my normal dishes and tools. It’s hard to be inspired to whip much up when there’s not a lot to work with. All that said, one area I HAVE been diving into lately is the world of mocktails!

A couple weeks ago, a fellow mama-to-be friend and I curled up on the couch for some chat time and a mocktail. I decided to embrace the cool temp and go with something hot. This drink was super easy to prepare, and it would be great for a tailgate, with or without some added rum!

Recipe adapted from Running to the Kitchen

fall cider mocktail | life in yellow

  • 3 cups apple cider
  • ½ teaspoon whole cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon orange extract
  • ⅓ cup dark rum (if you want to make this an “adult” bevvie!)
  • extra cinnamon + turbinado sugar for rimming

Simmer all but the cinn-sugar garnish over the stove, and strain out the cloves. I poured mine into a stainless carafe for easy serving and to keep it piping hot.

Use a slice of orange to rim glasses or mugs, and dip them in the cinn-sugar garnish. I used some peel from the same orange for a little extra somethin’-somethin’.

Sip, sigh, enjoy! 🙂

cleaner eating chocolate chip cookies

three ingredient cookies | lifeinyellow.com

Okay, so I don’t know if chocolate chips are actually considered “clean eating”, but these cookies are made from no more than THREE ingredients, total, and none of them are eggs, butter, or granulated sugar!

three ingredient cookies | lifeinyellow.com

And did I mention? They’re DELISH! They’re chewy and sweet, and dare I say, almost good for you? The recipe’s so short it fits on a post-it:

three ingredient cookies | lifeinyellow.com

Which is exactly where I jotted it down, after my coworker brought a batch to work a couple weeks ago. Easy peasy!

three ingredient cookies | lifeinyellow.com

Mash your bananas first, so they blend easily with the oats.

three ingredient cookies | lifeinyellow.com

Add the chocolate, and scoop onto a VERY lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake and let them cool for several minutes to firm up … and enjoy!!

Oscar 2014!

oscar party 2014 | lifeinyellow.com

Another Oscar Party is in the books! It is so fun to host this little get-together, each year with a different group of girls (someday, I’m hoping to get all different friends who don’t know each other together for this, but until space allows…it’s on a bit of a rotation!)

oscar party 2014 | lifeinyellow.com

This year’s scheme was Pantone’s color of the year, Radiant Orchid, with some black and white striped details, and (of course!) dashes of “Oscar gold”.

oscar party 2014 | lifeinyellow.com

The theme for the evening was “Sweats encouraged, fabulousness required.” 🙂 It was a relaxing evening spent curled up in yoga pants and blankets, sipping and munching, and chatting away about who wore what (my favorite of the evening was Lupita’s blue Prada!) and which movie should win (I think Wolf of Wall Street was robbed).

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Ballots were filled out, and bingo was taken pretty seriously (!)…

oscar party 2014 | lifeinyellow.com

And cupcakes, cocktails, and snacks were on hand. (They didn’t make the photo cut, but tortellini skewers with various dipping sauces will be one of my new go-to food items – so easy and yummy even after they’ve cooled.)

oscar party 2014 | lifeinyellow.com

oscar party 2014 | lifeinyellow.com

And as always, the paparazzi lurked nearby along the red carpet…

oscar party 2014 | lifeinyellow.com

Cheers to a fabulous awards season!

Looking for more Oscar inspiration? You can find previous parties via the links for 2013, 2012, and 2011!