Cookbooks Perfect for Holiday Gifts

Years ago I used to always go shopping on Black Friday. I loved the rush from being around so many people. I’ve never, however, been a power Black Friday shopper, getting up at the crack of dawn to get a new TV. I don’t wait in line for a deal. I just enjoy starting the holiday season around a lot of people. These days I prefer to do a lot of my shopping online, researching deals and making sure I’m getting a good price.

I’ve put together a quick list of the cookbooks that I love, and have reviewed on the site in the past (some very recently!). These are some of my favorites, and would make great gifts for the foodie in your life.

Note: I am using affiliate links in this post, so if you end up making a purchase, I get a small commission on the sale, at no additional cost to you. Be sure to check the prices before you make a purchase as prices are always subject to change. I did my best to double check the prices before I listed them here.

Here are a few of my favorites:

I wrote about this cookbook recently and absolutely LOVE it. It’s a must have for your kitchen. It’s currently my favorite cookbook. I use it at least once a week. Normal price: $24.99. Current price: 17.99 for the hardcover.

The Pioneer Woman: A Year of Holidays. This is the perfect time to buy this cookbook. Can you say maple bacon scones? Need I say more? This one makes a great gift. I think this price is the best of all the sales I’ve seen. Regular price: $29.99. Current price: $17.99.

You know I love anything Ree Drummond cooks. Anything. Here’s proof: here, and here. All delicious. This cookbook is a staple in my kitchen and my go-to book when I need a basic recipe. Regular price: $27.99.

I just wrote about this new cookbook. It’s packed with information about healthy eating, but the recipes are divine. The cauliflower mashed potatoes are great, and I’m getting great feedback on the apricot jalapeno poppers I posted the other day! Regular price: $29.99.

This cookbook is for the baker in your life. If that’s you, then Happy Holidays to you — I suggest you buy yourself this little gift. I wrote about this cookbook a few weeks ago when I made Joy Wilson’s (aka Joy the Baker) amazing blueberry pancake muffins. My daughter just asked me to make them again. I can see where this is going now, I’m going to be making these things all the time! They are sublime. Regular price: $30.00.

About Alicia: Alicia is the founder of Last year, she managed to stay sane while completing an MBA, working full-time, blogging, and still baking amazing birthday cakes — all while raising a young family at home.

Thank You For Allowing Me to be on this Journey

Happy Thanksgiving
It’s a day of Thanksgiving and a time for reflection. I know it’s a busy day for everyone. There’s cooking, baking, eating, and drinking. For some, you’ve been traveling for hours, or days, to get to a loved-one’s house. For you, I wish you rest, and enjoyment among your family and friends.

Others might be lonely with nowhere to go. Some have to work. Some would be grateful for extra work, even today. For you, I wish restful minds, friendships, and prosperity.

And, some of you are going shopping. For you, I wish great savings, small crowds, and a joyful heart as you buy for those on your holiday gift list.

We’re all trying to shove so much thankfulness into one day that, frankly, we should be finding time to fit into our everyday: being thankful. What I love about Thanksgiving is that it’s a day just to be. There are no presents to give or to receive. There are no expectations with Thanksgiving. But often we get caught up in the activities of the day. We watch TV, bake too much, and eat too much. We jam it all into one day.

Thanksgiving should be more than just one day. It should be a daily event in our lives. We can’t achieve more if we aren’t grateful for what we have now.

There is so much I’m thankful for: a husband who would marry me all over again (Happy anniversary honey!), two kids who are smarter than I am, family, and dear, dear friends who stick by my no matter what. I’m thankful for the opportunity to try a new career and to make this blog something special for my readers. To help them achieve balance in their busy lives. Thank YOU for being here, for reading, for making recipes that I post, and thanking me for posting them! Thank you for sharing my story. Thank you for allowing me to be on this journey.

And, for all of you, I wish a very Happy Thanksgiving and a blessed and balanced holiday season!

About Alicia: Alicia is the founder of Last year, she managed to stay sane while completing an MBA, working full-time, blogging, and still baking amazing birthday cakes — all while raising a young family at home.

Apricot Jalapeno Poppers and The Grain-Free Family Table Cookbook

Apricot stuffed jalapeno poppersI made these simple and tasty appetizers from Carrie Vitt’s new cookbook, The Grain-Free Family Table. So easy, really different, and delicious. She calls them zingers and says, “if you are going to make anything in this book, make this recipe.” That was enough for me to try them.  I’ll get back to these babies in a minute, but first I want to talk a bit about Carrie’s cookbook.

Carrie is the author of the Deliciously Organic blog and tells an amazing story about her journey to healthy living. She’s overcome “chronic migraines, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and excema with an organic, nutrient-dense diet.” The beginning of the cookbook talks about her path to healing — after reading her story, it’s a lot of healing!

I’ve seen this type of healing with others and have read accounts of how people who have healed themselves by changing their diets. The Grain-Free Family Table chronicles her story on how she changed her eating habits and now lives a grain-free lifestyle. You might be saying, but I don’t need to eat gluten-free or grain-free so I don’t need this cookbook. And I’d tell you, you’d be missing out. If anything, this cookbook is an education into healthier eating habits. I think we all eat too much sugar and unhealthy starches like refined white flour. I’m a big offender myself. While you may not need to eat completely grain-free, this is a great resource to learn more about what you are eating.

Carrie explains different flours she uses like almond flour and coconut flour; what natural sweeteners she uses; and discusses oils and fats. Nearly the first 30 pages are full of information and inspiration about her eating lifestyle.

I made the zingers because they sounded marvelous, but I also want to make her pumpkin, currant, and pecan breakfast cookies. Who wouldn’t want that for breakfast? And I’ve got to try the zucchini fritters, and cauliflower fried rice.

I did make her creamed cauliflower — oh. my. gosh. This tasted just like mashed potatoes — without all the mashing. Just boil a head of cauliflower, then puree it in a food processor with a stick of butter and 2 tablespoons of milk. Add salt and pepper and you have a delicious side dish!

So, back to the poppers.

poppers_beforeThese are the little guys before I put them in the oven. (I realize the button on my shirt isn’t buttoned. Sloppy me. For the record, I was wearing an undershirt and the blue shirt was more like a jacket. Oh well, I’ll be more prepared for this shot next time!)

Anyway, the poppers. You slice open an apricot “like a book” and stuff it with a sliced jalapeno pepper. Wrap it in a piece of bacon and put a toothpick through it. As you can see in the photo, I didn’t use a toothpick. Mistake. This was a BIG mistake people. Don’t follow my lead on this one. Use a toothpick.

poppers_vertical2Ahh, the toothpicks are in. Halfway through the cooking process you need to turn the poppers and let them cook for 10 more minutes. This is when I noticed my mistake. Because I didn’t use a toothpick, the bacon fell apart from the apricot. So, I had to take each hot little bugger, with my bare hands and put the toothpick in. poppers_2Viola! I repaired the damage. Look at these guys. Just let them cool for a few minutes then start popping them in your mouth. These were gone in no time.

The next time I made these I think I might spice up the back with some special pepper, or just buy a special black pepper bacon. That would throw this recipe over the edge.

Apricot Jalapeno Poppers
recipe courtesy Carrie Vitt from The Grain-Free Family Table
  • 20 dried apricots
  • 20 jarred jalapeno slices
  • 7 bacon slices (cut into thirds)
  • 20 toothpicks
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Line baking sheet (with sides) with parchment paper
  3. Slice apricot in half (so it opens like a book)
  4. Slide a jalapeno slice inside the apricot and wrap the apricot in a slice of bacon, securing it with a toothpick. Place on prepared baking sheet
  5. Bake for 10 minutes, turning each popper over with tongs, bake for 10 more minutes

 Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review. Affiliate links are used in this post which means that if you make a purchase I will receive a small commission on the sale, at no additional cost to you. Opinions are my own.

About Alicia: Alicia is the founder of Last year, she managed to stay sane while completing an MBA, working full-time, blogging, and still baking amazing birthday cakes — all while raising a young family at home.

Gingerbread House Competition Teaches More Than Baking

gingerbread house made for The Omni Grove Park InnFor the second year now, my kids made a gingerbread house as part of The Omni Grove Park Inn’s National Gingerbread Competition. It’s a pain-staking process that takes a ton of time. People think I’m crazy for doing it.

Each time we visited Asheville during Thanksgiving or Christmas we would go to the gingerbread competition an aww at the entrants. It’s am amazing event that really gets you in the spirit of the season. Once we moved to Asheville, I knew we needed to enter something ourselves!

Making gingerbread houses is a messy business.The dining room was mission central. It looked like this for over a week. Chocolate pretzels, candy canes, gum drops, and a ton of other types of candies and decorations. And sprinkles. Tons and tons of sprinkles. They were everywhere.

gingerbread house made for The Omni Grove Park InnBut the results are so sweet. We learned so much throughout the process. This would be a great home school project.

Project management — there is a ton of planning to create a gingerbread house. You have to decide how large, what materials you’ll need, set a budget and create a timeline.

Budgeting –how much are you willing to spend? I have to admit this is a category that I glossed over this year. I didn’t set a budget, but did put a cap on supplies after I’d been to the store already. We try to get ingredient that are on sale or from the Dollar Store. This is an area we’ll improve upon next year and I’ll include the kids so they will have to do more pre-planning.

Time management — ahh, time management. We did not budget time wisely this year. The key design phase of this project overlapped with the birthday cake making week. MISTAKE!! At the end of this project I declared that if we don’t begin the gingerbread houses by October 1st, we won’t do them.

Art — the creative process to design a house is the most fun (well, eating is the most fun!). My kids each designed their own house on paper before we began. Then they learn to mix colors, create patterns, and artistically fill a space — it’s truly a mixed media project. What we’ll work on next year is the importance of a clean design — about making sure your work is clean and tidy and paying attention to the details.

Engineering — this is one of my favorite teaching moments in this project. How large should the structure be? What size do you need each piece? What material (i.e. gingerbread recipe) should you use for the structure. How will you get it to stand up? What materials should you use to glue it together and how think does the icing (i.e. glue) need to be? There’s a ton of math involved in building a house. How many sides do you need? How many pieces of candy do you need to cover the roof.

gingerbread house made for The Omni Grove Park InnThere are so many other lessons we learned — too many to list. And, some that I don’t think I even know about yet.

gingerbread house made for The Omni Grove Park InnOnce we completed them, we needed to transport them to the Grove Park Inn. Luckily, we live close by so we didn’t have too many bumps in the road to get over. Some competitors drive for hours to get there.

gingergread repair kitAnd, I packed an emergency repair kit just in case we had a casualty on the way. gingerbread house made for The Omni Grove Park InnWe made it!

About Alicia: Alicia is the founder of Last year, she managed to stay sane while completing an MBA, working full-time, blogging, and still baking amazing birthday cakes — all while raising a young family at home.

Customized Boy’s Birthday Cake

Boy's birthday cake with Diary of a Wimpy KidAs many of you know, I make a big birthday cake for my kid’s each year. That’s two cakes a year. Not too bad. This year my son couldn’t decide on a theme for the cake. It’s been easy in the past. We’ve done a pirate ship for a party at a pirate-themed mini golf course. We did an orange cake-pop alien. There was the Lego cake, and of course, last year was a Minecraft creeper cake. Hard to top that one.

So, what to do this year? Normally we start sketching and planning several months in advance. Since we didn’t have a theme yet, no sketching could be done.

Boy's birthday cake with Diary of a Wimpy KidSo, I decided to do a simple, two-tier cake — OK, not totally simple, but I’ve done enough of these that I’ve got this process down. I’ll put fondant on top and then decorate the sides with his favorite characters. Ones like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He’s read and reread these books several times in the past year so it seemed fitting to have Greg Heffley on his cake.

I cut out small squares from fondant and asked my husband to draw the characters with edible ink markers (I used these Wilson markers). He was a little confused about exactly what to draw and then recommended we have the birthday boy draw them.


So, above you’ll find: Greg Heffley, a Minecraft creeper, Emmet from the Lego Movie, and Shamu. There were a few other characters that went around the back of the cake too. All things my son loves. It became a cake that we adored because it was special — specific to him. He loved it so much, he decided to sign the top of the cake!

multi colored birthday cakeI almost forgot about the inside of the cake so I snapped one of the last pieces with my iPhone.  I used a special cake insert to get each of the three layers to be different colors. Truth be told, it was supposed to look like a checker board. NOT! I couldn’t tell what it looked like until we cut into it. Even though the colors aren’t perfect squares … heck, they aren’t even straight. But, it looks kind of cool. The kids loved it!

Embrace the mistakes!

Birthday memoriesHere we are with the final product, right before he blew out the candles and made a wish.

Here a list of some of my other birthday cakes:

Disclosure: An affiliate link is used in this post. If you make a purchase, I get a small commissions, at no additional cost to you.

About Alicia: Alicia is the founder of Last year, she managed to stay sane while completing an MBA, working full-time, blogging, and still baking amazing birthday cakes — all while raising a young family at home.