Tuesday, December 15, 2015

mason jar cookie mix gifts for the holidays

i love the holidays. there is something magical about this time of the year and i absolutely love it. i do struggle, however, to find fun little gifts to give to neighbors and friends that are festive and thoughtful but reasonable as well. enter ALDI. this year i was helped by the team at ALDI with the idea for these adorable cookie mix jars. with these semi-homemade creations, i can quickly and easily make sweet, personal treats for people in my life without breaking my back or the bank. it's a complete win.

mason jar cookie mix gift

what you need:

  • large mason jars (there are a ton of these at stores like michael's or hobby lobby)

  • Baker's Corner or liveGfree cake mixes (these can be either vanilla cake mixes or chocolate. either works fine for these.)

  • a large variety of mix-ins: these can all be found at your local ALDI store. the options are really limitless. if you have ever wondered what something would taste like in a cookie, give it a try! my favorite options are the Baker's Corner chocolate morsels, white chocolate morsels and butterscotch morsels, Southern Grove pecans or walnuts, and any of the Moser Roth chocolate bars cut into chunks. seriously, all of those options in a cookie are to die for.
  • ribbon, twine or other decorative items.
  • tags printed with baking instructions.

preparing the jars:

  • fill each of your mason jars with two cups of cake mix. if you have a friend with gluten sensitivities, use the liveGfree cake mix. it's a fantastic option. 

  • it's best to create several jars at once to facilitate the process and create a large number of gifts to give to friends, teachers or neighbors.


  • add your mix-ins. this can be as elaborate or as simple as you would like. as you wander the aisles of ALDI, pick out several options that would work in cookies. 
  • place these in bowls and then scoop them in layers over your cake mix in the jars. these make really beautiful jars full of goodness.
  • create tags with baking instructions for each jar. the instructions should include the following:
  • add some decorative ribbon or twine and pass out some holiday joy! it's as simple as that. 
  • this would be a fun task to complete with girlfriends as well. holiday happiness all around!

that's it! simple, delicious, and cost effective. they are a great little treat for all the people in your life. happy holidays indeed.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

holiday hostess gifts for any party

'tis the season for holiday parties. i love them...each and every one but i struggle to find something to bring for the hosts and hostesses. this year, i have it covered. i made a trip to ALDI and was able to purchase a beautiful basket full of products that anyone would love for their holiday meals or just to snack on while preparing for meals with friends. i know i would love to receive a basket full of this goodness so i'm counting on others feeling the same.

holiday hostess baskets

making your basket:

  • you will need a large basket. you can find these at a variety of places. one of my favorite locations to purchase baskets is at marshall's or home goods. we have both about two miles from my house and they always have a wide variety of baskets at reasonable prices.

  • purchase a couple of beverages of your choice. ALDI has a great selection of reasonable wines. during this time of the year, i am also able to find sparkling juices for gift baskets for friends of mine who do not drink alcohol. these are always a great place to start and do wonders for making a basket look festive.

  • buy a large selection of holiday and seasonal items from ALDI. i love this time of year at ALDI as they have a huge selection of their Specialty Select items for the holidays. we found a beautiful orange cranberry sauce, adorable striped bowtie pasta, chocolate covered cashews, chocolate coated butter cookies, lacey dark chocolate almond crisps, delicious Moser Roth chocolates and a host of other items to include. 

  • load up your basket. i like to place the wine bottles/sparkling juices in the back of the basket followed by the larger and taller items and concluding with the smallest items in the front. i want everything to be visible from the front of the basket.

  • end with something festive. add a lovely red bow. i included a simple christmas ornament that can be added to their christmas tree. something small will be perfect to accompany all the food goodness and will add something personal to your gift to others.

the basket took no time at all to put together and, as the majority of the purchases were made at ALDI, it was extremely easy to gather all the necessary items as well. it is the perfect little "something" to say thank you for a holiday invite and it is sure to bring holiday cheer wherever you go. i feel merry, bright and hungry just looking at it!

Monday, November 30, 2015

an insider's guide to the best of ALDI

i know i've said it before but it is worth repeating. i love ALDI. i moved to the south eight years ago not knowing one thing about the store. as more and more friends shared their addiction to the store with me, i decided i needed to see for myself what all the buzz was about. i was not disappointed. ALDI saves me (literally) hundreds of dollars each month. it has become a budget saver for my family of seven.

when the lovely people at ALDI corporate invited me to visit their headquarters and test kitchen, i jumped at the chance. i have many friends who already are regular shoppers but want to know all the ins and outs of the store. i have other friends in the state where i grew up (can i hear a shout out for my california friends?) who have no reference of ALDI whatsoever but who may be getting an ALDI store near them soon. for everyone, there are several things i learned on my trip to ALDI headquarters and one of their illinois stores that can help enhance everyone's shopping experience. 

for all of my friends, near and far, here is my insider guide to the best of ALDI.

insider guide to the best of ALDI

come to ALDI prepared: 

you will need two things when you head to ALDI for any visit. first, you will need a quarter. in order to get a grocery cart (or a buggy as they say here in the south), you will need to insert a quarter to release the cart. once you have finished your shopping, you will get your quarter back when you return the cart to its location. this is just one way that ALDI ends up saving the customer money. the store does not need to employ workers to collect grocery carts in the parking lots of their stores as the customers do that work themselves. that savings gets transferred to the customers.

the second item you will need for your ALDI trip is a handful of your own re-usable shopping bags. i have a collection of ALDI bags which are my favorite reusable bags because of their sheer size. if you forget your bags, they are available for purchase in the store. you will need to bag your own groceries so come prepared with plenty of bags. i also use the insulated bags for my frozen and refrigerated items purchased in the store. again, when the customer bags their own groceries, the store does not need to spend money employing baggers. this savings again is passed on to the consumer and we as customers get to reap the benefits.

ALDI does not accept credit cards:

ALDI accepts cash and debit cards only. this is due to the fact that stores are required to pay around a 3% charge to the credit card companies in order to process those payments. 3% of each grocery bill adds up tremendously. i only shop with my debit card or cash on any occasion so i, for one, am grateful that i'm not paying for other people to use their credit cards by paying more for items in the store.

ALDI is built for efficiency: 

there are multiple ways that this is true. first, the store is smaller in square footage than other grocery stores. most grocery stores average 60,000 square feet. ALDI stores average 10,000 square feet. this enables customers to get in and out of the store quickly.

ALDI focuses on selling items that customers will buy every time they shop. they stock the items that move off the shelves quickly and you will find those items in the same location in the store each time you shop. you will also find that each of the ALDI stores have the same or similar layouts. this enables you as the customer to get in, find your needed items and get out quickly. it also cuts down on the time employees need to be trained and to set out new products. each ALDI employee knows the store layout well, knows where each new box of products should be placed, and gets things out to customers quickly. it also ensures that employees can transfer from location to location with minimal retraining. again, efficiency among the ALDI workers means they can hire fewer workers to do the job providing the consumer with greater savings. it's definitely a win for the shopper!

this efficiency in shopping is also the reason ALDI does not carry dozens of different brands or a huge variety of exclusive or specialized items. their products are designed to move off the shelves. if an item is too exclusive, it won't move quick enough for the store to deem it worthwhile for that small square foot space. one of my friends wanted them to carry kombucha. i'm just throwing out a guess here but i'd wager that isn't an item that would fly off the shelves. i could be wrong. for specific specialty items, you may have to look at a different store to supplement your ALDI purchases. 

ALDI is also efficient in its display of products. ALDI products come in ready to use boxes. the tops are ripped off of the boxes and the entire boxes full of product are placed on display for the customers. restocking takes seconds. within each box are mixed products. one of our favorites is the SimplyNature granola bars. within one box, i can find various flavors of granola bars to purchase for my kiddos. it takes two seconds to find their favorites and i am on my way. once the display cases/boxes are empty, customers can take the boxes to carry their own groceries home or the cases are recycled. ALDI recycles 100% of the boxes in the store. 

you will also find as you look at ALDI products that there are multiple UPC's all over the products. this means that the employees at the check out do not need to search for a bar code when scanning. they can literally run the box along the scanner on any side of the box and get a reading. that means faster check-outs, fewer checkers needed, and again, more savings to the consumer!

efficiency saves time and money. i'll take that!

2015 is a huge year for ALDI:

this news is huge...huge! by the end of 2015, all ALDI exclusive products (products that use that ALDI private label) will be completely free of synthetic colors, MSG, and partially hydrogenated oils. what? what other grocery store gives the customer that promise? that alone is reason to shop there.

their brand SimplyNature is mostly organic or non-GMO verified:

ALDI has an increasingly large number of SimplyNature products in its store. SimplyNature products are mostly organic or non-GMO verified. on the ALDI website, the company has a list of all the items not allowed in the SimplyNature line the number of SimplyNature products in this line seems to be growing each time i shop. this has been a great, economical way for me to shop for organic products for my family.

G-free products are increasing:

much to my dismay, i've recently been told by a doctor to go gluten free. i mourn over the loss of fresh made bread often. still, i'm so happy to have found a complete line of gluten free products at ALDI. i've purchased a ton of their gluten free items and they are all equally delicious. i may or may not have eaten almost an entire pan of liveGfree brownie mix brownies. it had been so long since i had that kind of goodness i couldn't resist. the liveGfree items are truly a life saver for me and they are extremely reasonable as well. 

for those with other allergies or food sensitivities, the liveGfree products are also the best labeled products in the store, in my opinion. on each box it lists all the things the item is "free" of. from dairy-free to gmo-free, it is a wealth of information.

they listen to their customers:

ALDI corporate listens to their customers. customers requested 1% milk. ALDI delivered. customers asked for cilantro. ALDI added cilantro. customers asked for higher quality meats. ALDI now sells grass fed ground beef and Kirkwood Never Any! chicken, without any antibiotics, hormones, animal bi-products or steroids and raised cage free on vegetarian feed. if you have a product that you feel ALDI is missing (keeping in mind their standards of efficiency), send them an email. they care about their customers and they listen to us when we speak. 

they are growing: 

currently there are nearly 1500 ALDI stores in 32 states. there are not any stores on the west coast...yet! over the next five years, ALDI will be opening another 650 stores across the united states. here is the best news for my southern california friends...the first ALDI stores in california will be opening in march of 2016! you all will be the first west coasters to experience the store for yourselves. i am so excited for you!

they taste test extensively:

on our ALDI test kitchen tour, we were privileged to see where the actual taste testing takes place for ALDI products. ALDI does blind taste tests of ALDI products comparing them to the leading top national sellers of similar products. we tasted a wide variety of items and for some items, i couldn't tell a difference in any way. in other products, i preferred the ALDI product hands down! they tasted so much better and with each product i could save between $1.00 and $6.00. it is truly amazing. the company is dedicated to making their products taste good to the consumer. they take pride in their products and you can tell when you taste them as well.

they sell alcohol:

this is dependent on stores and what each state allows as far as alcohol sales is concerned. ALDI does sell very reasonable bottles of wine and some imported beer as well. we sampled several varieties while on our trip to ALDI headquarters and, well, let's just say...none of us were complaining! the most expensive bottle of wine in the entire store was $13.00 at the illinois store we visited with some bottles as inexpensive as $5.00. 

seasonal items are in stores temporarily: 

this information is key! seasonal items are brought into ALDI stores for a couple of months at a time. once they are gone...they are gone. if you love some of these products, i fully support stock piling. these products are usually placed together and are often on end caps. the Specially Selected private label is a dead giveaway. those products are only in the store for a limited time because they will sell well during certain times of the year. once those products have moved on, it could be 10 months before you see them again. i repeat...stock. pile. 

they have a money back double guarantee:

this little tidbit was news to me. all ALDI exclusive brand food products (anything with the ALDI private label) including produce and meats are eligible for a money back double guarantee. that means that if you are not satisfied with any of your products, you can bring them back to ALDI and, not only will they give you a full refund, but they will also give you another product to try...money back double guarantee. what a great store, right?

ALDI employees are treated well:

ALDI employees are some of the only associates that get to sit down while checking people out at the registers. this is better ergonomically for the checkers and it also seems to expedite the check out process. employees are also offered benefits even if they are still part-time employees. if an employee works 25 hours a week or more they get full dental and medical insurance and get offered 401K options as well. happy employees make for a better shopping experience for everyone. 

they have a great selection on produce

ALDI sells produce...and many times it looks better than the produce at other stores. they also have a growing selection of organic produce to choose from. i've purchased their produce many times and each time have been thrilled with the quality of the items i have purchased.

what do you think? did you learn something new? i know that i grew even more excited about the ALDI shopping experience after spending a few days with their corporate employees. they were beyond professional, were thoughtful and courteous, and clearly loved their job and the company they represent. that alone says a great deal about a company. i don't know about you but i'm proud to be an ALDI shopper. i am able to save my family money on a monthly and even weekly basis while still getting great products through a company i believe in. that's a definite win for me. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

turkey crispy treats

thanksgiving is days away. amidst all the cooking and preparing, i wanted to make something special that my kids would love and enjoy for the holiday. let's be real, they are not going to love the green beans i am planning for thanksgiving day. these little turkey treats are a happy addition to our holiday table and the kids think i'm a rock star for making them. sometimes that's all the accolades i need.

thanksgiving turkey crispy treats

what you will need:

1/2 cup melted butter

8 cups cocoa krispies

1 bag (10 oz) mini marshmallows

candy corn (i could not find this in a store after halloween but, amazingly, amazon always has these and they can be sent via amazon prime)

vanilla frosting (not going to lie...i bought the stuff in the tub)

chocolate frosting (just buy the tub)

mini pretzels

pretzel sticks

constructing the turkeys

make the cocoa krispy treats:

in a large saucepan, melt the butter and the bag of mini marshmallows until they are smooth. add 8 cups of cocoa krispies until they are well coated.

spray a jelly roll pan with non-stick spray. using a piece of wax paper, press the krispy mixture firmly into the pan. (if you don't have wax paper, spray your hand with non-stick spray and use it to press the krispies firmly into place.) allow to cool.

using a donut cutter or a glass with approximately a 3 inch diameter, cut as many circles out of the krispies as is possible. use a much smaller circle (i used the inside circle of a donut cutter) to make smaller circles out of the krispy treats. these circles should be about 1 inch in diameter. place all the cut out circles on wax paper on top of a cookie sheet. 

using vanilla frosting, place a blot of frosting on the large circle at the bottom. 

add two pretzel rods pointing down as the turkey legs and then place some more frosting on the small circles and cover the turkey legs with the small circle of krispy treat.

cover the top of the turkey body with frosting and place the mini-pretzels around as the turkey feathers. add chocolate frosting to the small circle and add one candy corn as the turkey beak.

add more candy corn on top of the mini-pretzels to form colorful turkey feathers and wait for the frosting to harden slightly before serving. 

happy turkey day to kids of all ages!

Friday, November 20, 2015

celebrating adopt a senior pet month with nutrish

november is adopt a senior pet month! in honor of that, i took my boys to visit a local non-profit, no-kill animal shelter located in the suburbs of san diego. friends of cats is dedicated to providing shelter and medical care to abandoned cats and those whose owners are unable to care for them. once their health is assured, they work to find them good homes. they do not euthanize, except as a matter of compassion if a cat is terminally ill or suffering.

if you are looking to add a new furry friend to your home, we urge you to adopt from a shelter and consider a senior pet.

we planned our trip and made sure to first make a trip to the store to purchase food to donate to the shelter. we, of course, purchased nutrish zero grain, because it's a favorite of our own furry friends, but also because we believe in what rachael ray is doing with her brand. 

did you know that 100% of rachael's personal proceeds from sales of nutrish have gone toward food, medical supplies and treatments for animals in need? every rachael ray nutrish food and treat recipe is made with simple ingredients like real meat and wholesome veggies, so they’re naturally delicious. as a busy mama, i also love how i can find all of my favorite nutrish recipes where i currently already shop for my groceries so there are no special trips for cat food.

on our trip to friends of cats, we had so much fun spending time playing with all the wonderful cats.

although we didn't end up with a new member of our family this time, we walked away with lots of smiles and the kiddos begging to come back again soon.

we encourage you to follow along with all of the wonderful things rachael's nutrish are doing. we know you will become a believer, as we did!