Archive for December, 2010

Why aren’t you drinking…LaCroix?

Photo credit: LaCroix.com

Seltzer water is an acquired taste. And I’ve got it.

Instead of drinking soda around our house, when my kids have a craving for bubbles, I like to give them LaCroix seltzer water.

I usually mix LaCroix with fresh juice to give it some flavor (and to clean out my fruit drawer–mandarin oranges that might be too sour for eating are perfect squeezed into a drink). When I don’t have the time or the fruit on hand, I’ll use boxed orange, pineapple, or apple juice.

Alone, I find juice is just too sweet straight, and seltzer alone, too boring. Together, they make the perfect combo for kids–they feel like they’re getting a treat, while I know they’re getting fewer calories and sugar than if they were drinking soda or even juice.

So for New Year’s Eve if you’re looking for something for your kids to drink besides soda (or you!), pick up some LaCroix. I’d suggest that you fill their glasses first halfway with seltzer water and then the rest of the way with the heavier fruit juice.

As a side note, after extensive testing I find that LaCroix is better than the store brand seltzers which tend to be way too bubbly and to loose their bubbles much faster. I know, I know, I’ve given this way too much thought:)

How about you–what do you give your kids when they want something special to drink?

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Pretty mini-quiches

A few weeks ago I tried out crustless quiche on a whim and it was a big hit at my house. I became a fan too–the recipe was so versatile and fast that I could make a meal in under 10 minutes (well, baking time took longer, of course). Serve a slice of quiche with a generous salad and dinner is done.

But then I wanted to get a little creative, try out spinach in the quiche, or maybe roasted veggies, breakfast sausage in some and ham in another. I wondered if I could use ramekins in place of a pie plate so that each person could have their own quiche and choose what ingredients they wanted. It was kind of like make-your-own pizza, but with quiche.

Putting the ramekins together takes a little more work than a single quiche, but not much. You’ll need to lightly coat each ramekin with baking spray. Put about 1/8 cut of ingredients into the bottom of the ramekin and then pour the egg mixture on top.

I filled a pan with various ramekin sizes (4 and 7 ounces) and quiche flavors–spinach and gruyere, cheddar and sausage, ham and potatoes. And yes, you can make these a day ahead and reheat them. Plus they slide right out of the ramekin so if you want to serve them out of the dish, you can.

So if you’re looking for something fun for New Year’s Day to serve to your crew, try out these mini-quiches. (And then next week when you need a quick dinner–yup, you can try these out again just with different fixins.)

Here’s a few tweaks to the crustless quiche recipe to make the mini version.

  • Instead of greasing a pie plate, use 6, 7-oz ramekins or 8, 4-oz ramekins (or a combination)
  • Fill each ramekin with about 1/8-1/4 cup fixins of your choice (sausage, spinach, roasted veggies, diced ham)
  • Pour the egg mixture on top of the fixins.

For more fun brunch ideas perfect for New Year’s Day (or breakfast for dinner)–like french toast fondue, check out these Come To Brunch ideas. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team. Once a week, I’ll be posting about the exciting things not to miss on the their site, and their affiliates.

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Holiday Wassail

Christmas past: My kids with Santa

I’d always wondered what the holiday song meant, “Here we come a-wasailling/ among the leaves so green.” That is, until my mother-in-law offered me a mug of wassail years ago. The spicy, tart drink reminded me of a punchier apple cider. And the simmering wassail on the stovetop made the whole house smell like Christmas (no wonder, it has a full tablespoon of allspice in the mix).

When I tried to hunt down a recipe for wassail online I was surprised by all the entries. Wassail has some history! Apparently, wassail dates back to Medieval times. (Possibly even farther. Scratching your head at just when ‘Medieval‘ would be? Try 5th to the 15th century. Still scratching? Me too. Think: Monty Python and the Holy Grail :) . The word ‘wassail’ comes from a combination of ‘was hail’ which is how the Saxons would greet each other–and say good-bye. I guess a modern day equilvalent might be, “Whassup?”

But it seems there’s even more to the story. I’m no historian, but doing a little Google digging led me to entries about how wassailing, which is now also a term for ‘caroling’, may date back to a feudal custom practiced during the winter solstice. There was a tradition for the feudal lords (think: land owners) to offer food and drink in exchange to blessings from the pheasants who lived on their land. The whole idea in “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” of “Now bring me some figgy pudding” makes more sense when you have this in mind (I’d always wondered about that line).

While I find the history of wassail intriguing, what I like is the whole idea of inviting over friends to go Christmas caroling, then coming back for mugs of warm citrusy cider. I think I’ll try that this year, but as far as the figgy pudding, I’ll pass.

Have you ever tried wassail? Did you like it? What about going a-wassailing?

Here’s Mama G’s recipe for Wassail

Recipe

Servings: 10+

Prep time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 quarts water

1 c. sugar

6 sticks cinnamon

10 cloves

1 T. Whole allspice

2, 12 oz. cans frozen orange juice

1, 12 oz can frozen lemonade

1 gallon apple cider

Directions

  1. In a large cooking pot bring the water, sugar, and spices to a boil (the mixture will become syrupy). Boil for 10 minutes and then lower the temperature to a simmer for half an hour.
  2. Remove the cloves and cinnamon.
  3. Add the concentrated juices and cider into the spiced syrup.
  4. Heat together. Serve warm.
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3 Easy candy cane-inspired treats

Did you forget someone? If you’re like me you thought you had made a list of all the people to give treats to, intended to get it done the first week of December. Then, it didn’t happen. Second week of December, still didn’t happen. And now, it’s almost Christmas and you’re starting to think, maybe Valentine’s Day treats instead.

I like to look on the bright side: A little desperation feeds creativity (yup, bad pun intended).

Looking around the kitchen for ideas, first I considered what we had on hand–oodles of candy canes. My thought? Crush ‘em and use ‘em. Of course, my kids were all in favor of taking a mallet to the candy canes.

Here are three easy holiday treats to make in a hurry.

Brownies + peppermint = yum!

Fast: Candy cane brownie truffles

How to: Make your own or use store-bought brownies. Take a spoon to dole out 1-inch sized pieces. Mold the pieces into balls in your hands. Melt white candy coating or semi-sweet chocolate chips. Roll the brownie balls in the melted chocolate and then in crushed candy cane pieces. Place on a sheet of waxed paper to set. (These are a little easier if you refrigerate or freeze the brownie balls before dipping, but you don’t have to.)

Faster: Candy cane cookies

How to: I used Nilla wafers, but you could use pretty much any cookie. Oreos are a good match too. Follow the same procedure as above, dipping the cookie half way into the chocolate and then into the candy cane pieces.

Someone likes being the official taste tester.

Fastest: Chocolate-dipped candy canes

How to: Melt white candy coating or semi-sweet chocolate chips (you have that part down, right?). Dip one end of the candy cane into the chocolate and then into Christmas sprinkles. Place the candy canes on waxed paper to set.

This is just one of many yummy recipes you can find at Delectable Christmas Candies & Treats. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team. Once a week, I’ll be posting about the exciting things not to miss on the their site, and their affiliates. Click through for plenty of last-minute recipes, including this one for Date-Orange bars.

How about you–are you still busy making holiday sweets to give away?

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Achatz Handmade Pie Co. Apple Pie Recipe

Apple Pie Recipe

Pie dough

Mix:

2-½ cup pastry flour

1-teaspoon sugar

1-teaspoon sea salt

Add:

½ cup all natural palm fruit oil

½ cup cold butter

Mix oil and butter into flour mixture with fingers until crumbly.

Add:

½ cup chilled water.

Do not over mix at this point. Dough will be sticky. Cover with plastic wrap or wax paper and allow to rest in refrigerator for 1 hour.

Divide dough in half. Roll out onto a lightly floured surface into an 11” circle to fit pie pan.

Filling

7 cups thinly sliced Northern Spy apples

½ c. sugar

¼ c. brown sugar

¼ c. flour

½-1 t. cinnamon

3 T. butter

Toss until apples are well coated; pour into bottom crust and dot with butter.

Roll out top dough disk, cover pie and crimp edges. Flute top crust for steam to escape while baking.

Brush top crust with water or egg and sprinkle with 2 T. sugar.

Bake at 375 degrees for 1-¼ hours or until golden brown and apple are tender.

If apples are not tender yet crust is becoming too dark, lower over temperature to 350 and continue to bake until apples are tender. Insert a fork into the middle of pie to test the tenderness of apple slices.

*Note that Wendy Achatz suggests using Northern Spy apples. I couldn’t find any at the grocery store so you might need to substitute another variety.

Special thanks for Wendy Achatz for sharing her recipe with MKES!

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Coconut Snowman Cookies–in 3D!

Snowmen cookies

Three different snowman frosting styles

Sure, you could make flat, sugar cookie snowmen, but why not enlist your kids in sculpting some three-dimensional ones? That’s what I did with this coconut snowball recipe. I let my kids roll the dough into 3 sizes of balls figuring we’d make a whole family of snow people.

Once the cookies had cooled slightly, we added a quick powdered sugar glaze and then more coconut. After the glaze had set, we added mini-chocolate chips for eyes and cut up fruit leathers for the “carrot” noses and scarves. Melted white chocolate made for perfect snowman glue.

I would love to claim this idea as my own, but really my kids insisted on doing something fun with the recipe. Seeing as in the last week we’ve had nonstop snow and 2–yes 2!–school snow days, I guess I’m not surprised. Plus the temperature is still so chilly that we can’t play outside. No wonder then that my kids were driven to make snowmen inside!

I wanted to try a few different ways to frost the snowmen–my older kids were patient enough to use the original recipe technique above, but younger kids might not be. 

So here are 3 frosting techniques I used, along with some notes.

Powdered sugar coated snowman

Frosting #1 Powdered Sugar

Good: Simple. You just roll the cookie balls in powdered sugar while they’re still warm.

Bad: This makes sticking on the mini-chocolate chip eyes much tougher.

Frosting #2 Powdered sugar glaze

Powdered sugar glaze snowman

Good: Add 2-4 teaspoons of milk to a cup of powdered sugar and stir. Place the cookie balls onto a wire tray with a cookie pan underneath. Pour the glaze over each ball. This is the LEAST messy technique.

Bad: The white chocolate glue is the most visible with this glaze. (Kids don’t seem to mind though.)

Glaze + coconut

Glaze + coconut snowman

Frosting #3 Glaze + ground coconut

Good: After you’ve glazed the snowman balls–and before the frosting sets–roll each one in coconut that has been pulsed in a food processor so that it’s nearly ground. This frosting turned out the prettiest snowmen and it masked any little errors (like too much white chocolate glue).

Bad: Messy. This is the recipe recommended version and these snowmen were the best of the batch. But you need to have patience to put these together.

*A batch of cookies will make for 5, 3-layered snowmen and 1 snow snake;)

This is just one of many cookie recipes you can find at Our Most Gorgeous Holiday Cookies Ever. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team. Once a week, I’ll be posting about the exciting things not to miss on the their site, and their affiliates. (If I have time this week, I really want to make the chocolate pinwheel cookie recipe. We’ll see:)

Are you making cookies for the holidays? What are some of your favorites?


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Why aren’t you drinking…Mexican cocoa?

Each time I open my spice cabinet Abuelita stares back at me. It’s sorta unnerving. With her wiry glasses perched too far down her nose and one raised, wrinkled eyebrow, her expression is a mix of grandma goodness and mischief.

Abuelita is Mexican hot chocolate. These are no powdery cocoa packets, but six disks of cinnamon-infused chocolate disks with a hint of spice. To use them you heat 4 cups of milk with the disk until it begins to boil.

You can give any hot cocoa a bit of a Mexican twist by adding a bit of ground cinnamon (or stir it with a cinnamon stick). And if you’re more adventurous, go ahead sprinkle just a tad of cayenne pepper. Either way, whether you try Abuelita or just tweak your own hot cocoa, the mix of chocolate and cinnamon fits perfectly with a a few holiday goodies.

Have you tried Mexican hot cocoa? Did you like it? What other tweaks do you give your hot cocoa?

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Squid eaters in the snow

Snow outside=baking inside. I’ve had plenty of excuses to cook over the last few days–it’s been snowing nonstop. I’ll have recipes to share later, but for now I wanted to give you a peek at my recipe testers.

My mochi-ball eater with her snow Christmas tree

Cornie behind the tree trunk pose--check! Note to self: next time find smaller tree.

My youngest, who loves roasted potatoes.

Okay had to put in a picture of the dog. He eats snow.

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Zingier Cookie Bars

Raspberry barsI love holiday baking. Let me repeat I LOVE holiday baking. But I don’t always have time for it. Then my 12-year-old mentions she needs a plate of goodies for choir or I really want to give a baked present to a friend but I have about 30 minutes to make something decent–and yeah, I need to do a load of laundry in between.

My secret? A little zing can make any cookie bar better, whether you’ve made it from scratch or enlisted the help of Krusteaz or whatever boxed mix you happen to have on hand. (Nope, no sponsorship from Krusteaz here, I just really like their raspberry crumb bars.)

Here are a few tweaks that will make your cookie bars stand out–

•Zest: Lemons, limes, oranges, clementines, adding a little citrus zest to your crumble bar batter will give it an added tanginess. (Use about a teaspoon of zest for a small batch and zest the entire fruit for a cookie-pan sized batter.) Fun pairings: orange zest with chocolate, lemon zest with raspberry, lime zest with strawberry.

*Confused about how to zest? No worries. Click for the lowdown on zesting.

•Fruit slices: After you’ve zested the fruit, don’t just send it down the garbage disposal! Cut thin, circular slices of the fruit. Then cut a line from the outside of the fruit just barely toward the center. Twist the fruit slice and place it on top. Make sure to add the twists just before serving. Refrigerate them until you’re ready.

•Almond extract: My vanilla extract bottle has been gathering dust lately. I don’t know, it just doesn’t have enough oomph for me. But the smooth flavor of almond just screams holidays to me. So I’ve been putting almond extract in place of vanilla in every recipe.

•Nutmeg: Another flavor that will inspire you to start singing Christmas carols, any recipe that calls for cinnamon, go ahead and add some nutmeg (about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon). If you’re daring, toss a few shakes of ground ginger in the batter too. Nutmeg pairs perfectly with most recipes calling for oatmeal.

•Nuts: Pecans are pricier than other nuts so I usually only get them around the holidays. Looking for a less expensive option? Almond slivers. No need to chop them before you use them, just add a few slivers to one of your favorite bars to make it look a little fancier. Or what about cashews?

•Chocolate: Okay, if you read my blog regularly you know I’ll use any excuse to add a little chocolate, but try something different–like mini-chips or chunks instead of your regular variety.

Shaped raspberry cookie bar

If only I had a star cookie cutter!

And to make your cookie bars really stand out, forget the bar! Refrigerate the cooked bars for about 1 hour and then instead of cutting, use a cookie cutter to make different shapes (warning: you’ll get fewer bars this way, but your kids will love having the job of eating the extras.)

Ready to get baking? Check out these recipes for the Best Cookie Bars. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team. Once a week, I’ll be posting about the exciting things not to miss on the their site, and their affiliates. (The peanutty buckeye bars are on my list to make:)

What about you? Do you have any hints for making your cookie bars even more tasty?

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Quick Crustless Quiche

Crustless quiche

Santa, please bring me a better camera so I can take decent pictures...

Quiche is pretty much a glorified omelet. But you can only have omelets for dinner so many times before it gets dull.

I like the standard quiche, but there’s something about the crust that just makes me think dessert instead of dinner. It could be that I once tried to save myself some time by buying the crust instead of making it from scratch and I inadvertently bought a dessert dough (not the savory, sugarless variety). Hey, I like to try new flavor combos, but ew. Just ew.

My solution? Go crustless.

Without the crust, quiche becomes a lot more versatile. And leftovers are literally soaked up with an egg custard and a generous helping of cheese. Pair yesterday’s ham and roasted potatoes with sharp cheddar cheese for a quick comfort food dish. Or spruce up spinach and bacon with some Swiss cheese.

Are you seeing where I’m going with this–easy dinner during the holiday rush that also cleans out the fridge? Ah, now you’re starting to brainstorm how to use what you’ve got and refashion it in a pie tin.

I’ve included a recipe with specific directions, but I like to think of this as a guideline, so let me explain crustless quiche construction. First, you need to grease your pan, easy enough. And don’t feel like you have to stay with the pie shape—an 8×8” square pan works well too (this recipe doubles well too). Then it’s all about what your family likes—add ham, sausage, bacon, or veggies to the bottom of your pan. Once that’s in the pan you pour the egg mixture on top to seal the ingredients together, of course the cheese in the eggs helps with keeping things together. I also like to add a little extra cheese and herbs (fresh or dried) on top of the quiche, just to spruce up the appearance.

The quiche doesn’t cook quickly, but while it bakes you can do a little online shopping or wrap a present or two. I usually serve a hearty slice of crustless quiche with a salad and a muffin.

Recipe

Servings: 4-6

Prep time: 20-30 minutes

Ingredients

4 eggs
1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 cups milk

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

pepper to taste
¾ cup-1 cup shredded cheese

1 cup chopped ham, cooked sausage, bacon or cooked veggies like broccoli, mushrooms

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, milk and flour using a hand mixer. Add the spices and ½ cup of shredded cheese (I like to use a combination of Parmesan and sharp cheddar).
  3. Grease a 9” pie pan or small casserole dish.
  4. Place your cooked meat and/or veggies on the bottom of the baking dish. Pour the egg mixture over the top.
  5. Add the remaining cheese.
  6. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until cooked through and browned slightly on the top.
  7. Cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
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