Posts tagged holidays

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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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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Making Thanksgiving Fun for Kids

Trouble board gameTrouble. Sorry. Whoonu. Don’t worry–I’m not expecting any problems on Thanksgiving, other than maybe a little indigestion. These are the games I’m going to bring over to a friend’s house where we’re spending the day.

See, sometimes Thanksgiving can seem like more of a grown-up holiday. So this year I’m trying to look for ways to keep my kids involved (and to win at least a round or two of Uno—seriously, when did my 7 year-old become such a card master?!).

Plus I’m really looking forward to spending some time with my girls without having to worry about homework getting done, being late for basketball practice, or even keeping up with my email.

Here’s what I’m planning so far–I’d love to hear your ideas too!

Board games.

Classics like Checkers and Monopoly can be fun, but since we’ll be with friends, I’m bringing along games that encourage conversation.

  • Whoonu lets players rank items on cards according to how much they like them. You rank “macaroni and cheese” above “petting zoos”? Cue: Whoonu?
  • Apples to Apples Junior is another favorite, giggle-inducing, didn’t-know-that-about-you game. Players take turns being the “judge.” The judge puts down a green apple card that has a word on it, say “dangerous,” and from the other players’ stash of 5 cards, they put down what they think best matches. The judge then picks the winner–and at least at our house–has to justify why she chose “doing the dishes” over “pirates” as the best match with “dangerous.”
  • For more board games your family might enjoy, click through this round-up of games from Parents.com. I’ve been checking out their site as part of the Motherboard team.

Napkin animals.

My 9-year-old has become an origami machine. She’s already filled two shoe boxes (and we’re talking winter boot boxes here!) full of paper-fashioned frogs and snakes dragons. I asked if she wouldn’t mind trying out some of her skills with napkins and her eyes went two shades brighter blue. She went and grabbed her origami book and read the Table of Contents asking what requests I had. So along with bringing rolls, a dessert, and some games, we’re bringing napkin animals.

Baking art.

Lately, when I’m making batches of goodies to give to friends, I save a little dough for my kids. I just let them create whatever shape comes to mind. Last week my 9 year-old crafted a volcano sugar cookie oozing with raspberry jam lava. And before that my 7 year-old built snowmen out of coconut truffle dough, complete with M&M eyes. So along with making one regular batch of dinner rolls, I’m going to let my three kids roll out the second batch. My guess is some will end up crescent shaped, some frogs (a current fascination) and others snakes–because it’s just fun to roll the dough out with two hands and then add a couple raisins for eyes.

Do you remember anything fun that you did as a child at Thanksgiving to make it memorable? Are you planning on doing anything different this year to keep your kids involved?

*Reminder: If you haven’t already, make sure to enter the King Arthur $60 Giveaway. The deadline for the contest is next Monday.

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Rich Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake

Raspberry chocolate cheesecake

Wanna slice?

Growing up, we never had pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. Ever. Our holiday dessert was usually a tart with a mosaic of macadamia nuts, pecans and chocolate chips. I’m not sure how pumpkin pie got taken out of our holiday mix, but I liked that our family didn’t have the usual spread of stuffing and cranberry sauce.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I fully realized the appeal of traditional favorites–and that I was the only one who thought that buttered egg noodles with poppy seeds was Thanksgiving staple. Who knows how certain family food traditions get started!

We now have a holiday tradition for ending our turkey-day meal with cheesecake, chocolate raspberry cheesecake. I’ve included the recipe below, but I don’t want to make you nervous about trying this because the directions go on and on. See, I want you to have the best, crack-free, dense cheesecake possible so I’ve included ever little trick along the way.

Remember, making a good cheesecake is all about patience, not talent (this is from someone who’s never mastered souffles). Even better, cheesecakes are best made a day or two ahead, meaning you won’t have to figure out how to have enough oven space for your turkey, rolls, and, of course, green bean casserole.

Pssst: Don’t forget the $60 King Arthur Giveaway going on now until November 29th.

Recipe

Ingredients
Crust
9 ounces chocolate wafers
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Cheesecake
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chips are fine
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup raspberry jam
2 packages cream cheese
*Make sure the cheese is at room temperature
¾ cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Directions
For the crust: In a food processor, grind up the chocolate wafers (I also add just a touch of salt). I use Pepperidge Farms chocolate goldfish as the base for my crust—they’re not overly sweet like Oreos with cream filling. Add the melted butter to the crushed cookies. Here’s the tricky part. You’ll need a 9-inch springform pan. Surround the outside of the pan with aluminum foil (I’ll explain more on this later.) Cut a round piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom part of the pan. Spray the pan with cooking spray then insert the paper and spray again. Press the cookie crumbs into the pan and half way up the sides with your fingers (I’ve tried this with spoons, but frankly fingers are best). Put the crust into the fridge while you prepare the filling.

Yes, beat for ALL 7 minutes

Yes, beat for ALL 7 minutes

For the filling: Preheat the over to 325 degrees. In a large, glass measuring bowl, melt the chocolate and the heavy cream together in the microwave. Melt the two slowly. I usually start at half the power level for around two minutes. When the chips start to lose their shape, I finish the melting process by stirring the mixture vigorously. Add the jam to the chocolate mixture, stir and let it cool about 10 minutes.

In another large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and the sugar. As I noted in the directions, it’s key to have the cream cheese at room temperature. (Eggs, too!) Beat the sugar and cream cheese for at least 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Now, add the vanilla and the chocolate-raspberry mixture. Beat all the ingredients together for at least 5 minutes (I set a timer).

Constructing a waterbath

Constructing a waterbath

Here’s another tricky part—creating a water bath for your cheesecake. water bath keeps your cheesecake dense and smooth instead of dry. You’ll need a large, glass baking dish. I wish I had a larger one, but my biggest is 9×11” so I have to improvise. (I also add a larger, cookie baking pan under the casserole dish to make it easier to get it into and out of the oven.) make several aluminum balls and place them in the center of the baking dish because the casserole dish isn’t wide enough. Next, gently press the springform pan into the casserole dish. Pour the cheesecake filling into the crust, making surethat your aluminum balls stay in place and keep your pan level. Add about a half an inch of water to the bottom of the casserole dish (not into your cheesecake!). Carefully put the whole contraption into the preheated oven.

Make sure the foil comes all the way up

Make sure the foil comes all the way up

Bake for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours or until the cheesecake just jiggles in the center. Once the cheesecake is set, turn off

Place your pan/s carefully in the oven

Place your pan/s carefully in the oven

the oven and leave the door open. Wait one hour and then remove the cheesecake. Carefully pull it out of the water bath. Gently release the springform mechanism, but don’t remove it. Use a butter knife to separate the crust from the pan (this will ensure that the top doesn’t crack). Put your cheesecake into the fridge for at least one day before serving.

If you’re taking this dessert to a party, make sure you cut it at home in thin slices—there’s nothing worse than your cheesecake getting hacked to pieces in the rush to serve dessert. Make your job—or your host’s—easier by cutting it beforehand. If I’m serving the cheesecake at home, I put one slice on the plate, add a dollop of fresh whipped cream and then sprinkle with cocoa. If I have fresh raspberries or mangos, I’ll add a few of those too. Enjoy!

Note: I’ve had this recipe for years, it comes from an old recipe book called 365 Great Chocolate Desserts by Natalie Haughton

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Reinventing Thanksgiving Classics–King Arthur Giveaway

Butter crescent rolls

Pretty cresecent rolls, but how to tweak?

From simple tweaks like orange-zested cranberry relish to curiosities like turducken (you know, the chicken stuffed into a duck tucked inside a turkey creation invention that peaked in popularity a few years ago), there’s been a trend toward mixing up classic Thanksgiving fare.

I like it.

Seems like reworking dishes is the tradition—I mean, someone thought, “Hey, I bet these yams would taste better with marshmallows on them.” And now in kitchens everywhere come November 25th there’s grandmother’s lonely yam dish on the corner of the buffet, untouched.

Or, there’s the brilliant baker who thought to throw some crisp-friend onions on top of the green beans. Bless her!

So what tweaks are you planning this year?

I’ve been thumbing through ideas at the Mixing Bowl, a cooking forum sponsored by Better Homes Gardens. I found this recipe for the green bean bake using one of my favorite ingredients, bacon. And a whole group discussion dedicated to stuffing.

Basil roll

I wish I could have gotten a better photo--but check out the buttery basil roll

Here’s what I’m thinking:

-Instead of just my regular dinner rolls, I’m adding fresh herbs into the roll for parsley and basil-infused crescents. They’re beautiful and make the buttery rolls stand out more on the buffet spread.

-Mashed potatoes—how about in lilac? I’m stocking up on purple potatoes to whip up with plenty of real butter. I’m saving the pumpkin for cookies and making a chocolate-raspberry truffle cheesecake for dessert (recipe to come Thursday:).

-Forget iceberg or even romaine lettuce, what about a Southern-style inspired kumquat salad? That sounds good too.

Now I want to help you get baking this season so I’m offering my own giveaway

A $60 Gift Certificate to King Arthur Flour (my favorite baking company)

To enter:

leave a comment below with your Thanksgiving tweak

To increase your chances of winning:

  • “like” MyKidsEatSquid on Facebook
  • follow MyKidsEatSquid on Twitter
  • subscribe to MyKidsEatSquid (you can use the email box, if you prefer–top left:)
  • announce the giveaway on your blog and leave a comment with the link here

Each time you comment, subscribe, like and follow, I’ll add another entry with your name on it. Contest ends, November 29th midnight EST. The winner will be chosen at random and announced on November 30th.

Looking for more chances to win this holiday season? Check out this list of recipe contests. 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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