Don’t sleep on Aldi for your holiday baking needs

Pineapple thumbprints were the first cookies of this holiday season in the Thompson house.
Pineapple thumbprints were the first cookies of this holiday season in the Thompson house.

Three years ago, I started a Christmas tradition by accident.

It was a bittersweet holiday season. I had just started a new day job, but the first paycheck hadn’t come in yet. I was also freshly married, so my family tripled in size. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I wanted to do something nice for my relatives.

That November and December, I baked and baked and baked. Batches upon batches of sugar cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate chip cookies and double-chocolate cookies filled my freezer. Cookie sheets and parchment paper were my faithful companions, along with a dog eager to catch batter that flew out of the mixing bowl. And bless my poor oven’s heart — that thing really earned its keep that winter.

Fortunately, the cookies were a hit. And to keep up with my annual holiday baking, I’ve turned to one of my favorite retailers — Aldi.

I’ve shouted my love of this bargain grocery store on the blog before. This year, I realized Aldi is the perfect place to stock up on baking essentials at low prices. The center aisle at the Dixie Highway location was filled with Christmas goodies and odds and ends, like a bag of teeny Andes Mints for cookies or a whole pumpkin pie kit.

Here’s a look at some of the baking goodies I snagged on my last visit:

  • Molasses for my gingerbread men*: $1.99
  • A four-pound bag of sugar: $1.39
  • A bag of pecans for my shortbread cookies: $2.99
  • A tube of Betty Crocker icing for aforementioned gingerbread men: $1.99

Now that I have all of my ingredients, it’s time to get back to baking. If you’re interested in hitting up Aldi’s baking supplies, Aldi is located at 3442 Preston Hwy., 5109 Dixie Hwy. and 4301 Bardstown Rd. in Louisville. There are also southern Indiana locations at 3131 E. 10th St. in Jeffersonville and 3118 Grant Line Rd. in New Albany.

Just remember to bring your quarter.

*Gingerbread people? I’ve watched all of Transparent on Amazon Prime, so I want to use the preferred gender identity of my cookies.

Run to Aldi to get some gourmet cheeses and other fun food for the New Year

Still have some entertaining left to do? Need to bring some goodies to the office? Or do you just have a bone-crushing love of cheese but a disproportionate budget?

Get your butt to one of my favorite stores, Aldi.

For the past few weeks, the discount grocery chain has busted out seasonal specials. These are foodstuffs that Aldi holds back until special occasions, kind of like nice china or lacy underwear.

Anyhoo, with the year drawing to a close, I expect that these items will disappear, along with bundles of ugly Christmas sweaters, until next holiday season, so it’s time to stock up.

A big portion of their winter seasonal items is made up of “gourmet” cheeses. I’m sure there are cheese snobs out there who will turn their noses up at discount dairy, but I can’t turn down 4-ounce logs of goat cheese for $1.99 (in fact, I bought three logs during one visit). Here are some other items on sale:

  • Brie or havarti cheese: $2.99
  • A box of six-cracker assortment: $2.49
  • Brown-and-serve rolls: 99 cents
  • Red or green sprinkles: 99 cents
  • Queen Anne’s Chocolate-Covered Cherries: $1.19
  • Golden raisins: $2.29

For a complete list of seasonal sales, click here.

 

Guilt-free waffle fries, more counterspace and other things I want for Christmas

 

In no particular order, here is a sampling of what I would like this year for Christmas:

  • For Chick-fil-a to adopt more progressive social views so I won’t have a moral dilemma every time I want some waffle fries.
  • Delivery service from Annie Café. Yes, I live within spitting distance, but sometimes laziness sets in when I get a hankering for ginger chicken.
  • Time to reorganize all the recipes I’ve torn out from magazines.
  • MORE COUNTERSPACE.
  • Nutella in bigger, redesigned jars optimal for dipping pretzels and animal crackers. I’m sick of getting hazelnut spread on my wrists when I near the end of the jar.
  • And speaking of pretzels, a steady supply of chocolate-covered pretzels at my desk would be great. The salty/sweet combo is magical.
  • To receive the same (alleged) multi-million-dollar deal from Weight Watchers that Jessica Simpson will (allegedly) receive after she has a baby. I’m already down with PointsPlus, Weight Watchers. I’ll take the cash.
  • For people to truly like the homemade baked goodies I’m doling out for the holidays.
  • A new lunch bag. Something like this will do.
  • More respect for the tiny carts at Kroger. Quit leaving them out to freeze, Angry Teenage Cart-Gatherer.
  • More coupons for real food — the kind that doesn’t come in cardboard boxes.
  • Cherry Coke Zero at every fountain.
  • The realization of the great app that will be Menu and Hours.
  • More butter for Norway. Those people have suffered enough.
  • To not gain winter weight from all the cookies, doughnuts, cakes and lunch specials I’ve been exposed to in my new office.
  • World peace.

[Bits and pieces] Norwegian butter crisis, Mountain Dew, and other food news from the web, 12.19.11

A butter sculpture of a cow jumping over the moon. This is enough to make a Norwegian weep. Photo courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr.
  •  Because of a perfect storm of poor dairy production, the popularity of the high-fat Atkins diet, and the dire need for Christmas cookies, the people of Norway are in the midst of a butter shortage. Will they have to turn to margarine next? Oh, the humanity. (NPR)

 

 

  • A Chick-fil-A employee identified two Asian customers as “Ching” and “Chong” on their receipts. Is diversity and fairness too hard to grasp? (Eater National)

 

  • Pssst … Mountain Dew contains flame retardant. So do 10 percent of soft drinks sold in the U.S. Pass it on. (Gizmodo)

 

  • Here are some tips to tell if your olive oil is the real deal. (NPR)

 

  • Despite offering lower prices, big restaurant chains have suffered this year because of the economy. My tip: more free rolls. (The Street)

Cooking tip: Freeze your dough ahead of time to ease holiday baking

The depths of my freezer.

This will be a homemade Christmas season for the Ashlee Eats empire.

I’m making a lot of gifts for my family and friends this year, so they should expect lots of [SPOILER ALERT] baked goodies.

But next week, I will start a new day job*, and I have seven people and counting for whom to bake dozens of cookies. When will I have the time?

The Kitchn, my favorite food blog, answered that question in this post about freezing cookie dough.

You can save lots of stress later by taking advantage of the free time you have now by doing the heavy lifting now. Here’s how, according to The Kitchn:

  • Prepare your cookie dough according to recipe directions.
  • Roll dough into little balls and place on a cookie sheet.
  • Place the cookie sheets in the freezer for about an hour or until the dough balls are frozen.
  • Pop the dough balls into a freezer bag. Don’t forget to write the name of the cookie, the date the dough was frozen and baking instructions.
  • Whenever you’re ready for the cookies, bake as normal with a couple of extra minutes added on to the baking time.

I’ve baked three batches of cookies so far that are sitting pretty in my freezer. I will also bake a cake or two ahead of time and freeze them for later, another tip I got from this post at The Kitchn

Has anyone else tried baking ahead of the craziness of the holidays?

 

*Yep, after six months of unemployment, I got a new job at Humana. Read more about it on my Twitter feed and look out for a blog post in the next few days.

Share your favorite holiday food for a chance to win a $25 gift certificate to Avalon

I’m so excited about hosting my first giveaway on the blog.

“How excited? ” you wonder.

This excited:

 

I’m giving away a $25 gift certificate to Avalon, which has a lunch menu with more than 20 items that are less than $7. Let’s all give a hand clap to Avalon for making this giveaway possible.

Here’s how you can win. Answer this question in the comments section today through Friday, Dec. 2:

What is your favorite food or dish that you only eat around the holidays?

To get things rolling, I’ll let you in on my favorite holiday food. I discovered this gingersnaps recipe a few years ago and have since added it to my holiday baking. I only make these at this time of year. Call me crazy, but a gingersnap cookie is only to be enjoyed at Christmastime.

I’ll randomly select the winning commenter and announce the winner on Monday. Make sure you leave your email address in the appropriate field that only I can see. Only one entry per person.

Good luck!

Bits and pieces: Printable food, blizzard recipes and other food news from the web, 12.27.10

I had every intention to be productive during my break from work last week.

Then this happened:

Rob, aka Mr. Ashlee Eats, aka my favorite eating partner, asked me to marry him on Christmas Eve.

I said yes.

The engagement and Christmas the next day allowed me to take a break from the internet and celebrate with family and friends.

Now I’m back, so on with the news.

  • A group of scientists at Cornell University’s Computational Synthesis Lab are building a 3D, syringe-based food printer to create meals, according to the BBC. This sounds like a Willy Wonka experiment gone awry.

 

  • Gain some extra holiday pounds? Try exercising before you eat your breakfast. A study published in the Journal of Physiology showed that “working out before breakfast directly combated the two most detrimental effects of eating a high-fat, high-calorie diet,” according to a blog post from the New York Times.

 

  • Speaking of exercising, the L.A. Times ran an article reviewing workout equipment that folks can use at their desks. If I had a spare $500, I might take a second look at the TrekDesk Treadmill Desk. Or I would just haul my butt out of bed and jog.

 

  • For readers stuck in the blizzard that has overtaken New England this week, here’s a snow recipe from All Recipes to add some excitement to being stuck in the house. Just watch out for the yellow snow.

Still shopping? Take a peek at these last-minute, food-centric gift ideas

Don’t lie – you still have some Christmas shopping left to do.

Maybe you got caught up in an America’s Next Top Model marathon. It’s happened to the best of us. But now you have four days until you exchange gifts with your loved ones.

I’ve collected a few sites that make good recommendations on food-related presents. Good luck, and godspeed.

 Books: Let’s promote literacy this holiday season, shall we?

  • Food and drink books for the holidays from Epicurious
  • Another holiday book guide from Smithsonian Magazine’s blog
  • A list of some books I’d like – just throwin’ that out there

Gift cards: The gift that takes the burden of choice away from the buyer

Food: Because when you’re broke, there’s nothing more cost-effective than making a gift from the heart

  • NPR has a list of recipes for homemade candy
  • The St. Petersburg Times publishes an annual list of cookie recipes that make great presents
  • All Recipes provides tips on cooking and baking for gift-giving

Put down the pie and pop in the workout DVD, or how to stay healthy during the holidays

I’m two turkey sandwiches, four slices of sweet potato pie and nearly a dozen Crescent Rolls into the holiday season.

My hips are going to spread faster than the BP oil spill if I don’t change my eating habits between now and Christmas.

Most weight gain during the year occurs during the holiday quarter, and folks typically don’t lose the pounds they put on, according to an article from the Washington Post.

It’s the beginning of December, a prime time to learn from the gluttony and subsequent food hangover of Thanksgiving and make smart food choices through Christmas.

Here’s a few tips on how to stay (kind of) healthy during all the buffets, sit-down dinners and break room goodies. This advice has been gleaned from two rounds of Weight Watchers and too many years of eating myself silly at Mama Eats’ kitchen table. Bottom line: treat yourself, but don’t pig out.

  • Eat your veggies first. Fill half of your plate with vegetables and dive into the healthy stuff first. When I fill up on vegetables first, I have less room for the less-healthy options.
  • Pack snacks for work. Is it me, or does the office break room have little elves that constantly fill platters with cookies, cakes and pies during the holidays? Bring healthier snacks in your lunch bag, such as dried fruits or almonds, when you are tempted by the generosity of your co-workers.
  • Don’t forget to exercise – even if it’s just walking. It’s hard to get motivated when it’s cold and gray outside. But a few extra minutes of cardio each day can really make a difference. I like following a workout DVD when I get up in the morning – it gets my day started on a good note. I’m a fan of Leslie Sansone, who advocates indoor walking for exercise (it sounds kind of weird, but it’s pretty awesome).
  • Go easy on the sauce. Some of those holiday cocktails can be heavy on the calories. Check out the nutritional facts for eggnog. And chug some water between those hot toddies.
  • Bring your own dish to the holiday parties. The menu can be a mystery at holiday gatherings, but there’s some security in bringing your own healthy dish. I recommend pumpkin spice muffins.
  • Just say no. Daddy Eats will still love me, even if I don’t try that pecan pie he bought for charity. I’m sure your loved ones feel the same. But if Grandma’s eyes start to well when you turn down her cornbread stuffing, have a small portion instead of a heaping mound.