Kitchen Tips – How To Clean Butcher Block

Kitchen Tips – How To Clean Butcher Block

I have admitted this before…I am actually one of those people who enjoys cleaning!  I find the process to be relaxing and almost cathartic. And for me it is very rewarding because I can usually see a huge difference in a short amount of time – instant gratification so to speak! While most people don’t enjoy it the way I do, I would guess that nearly everyone would admit that after they are done cleaning they feel better, maybe “lighter,” happier, or just plain glad it is over.

Springtime brings with it a new energy. A zestfulness. And for many, the willpower to tackle some household chores that they have been putting off during the winter season. For us at Butcher Block Co., springtime is a good time to remind our customers how to take care of their Butcher Block investment.

So, let’s review some best practices and how to clean butcher block cutting boards, standing blocks, tables or countertops…

Daily Cleaning – Clean butcher block after every use.

  • Scrape – Gently remove any food particles with a scraper or spatula. If you happen to have a varnish surface, remove food particles with a sponge so as not to scratch the surface (remember, you shouldn’t be cutting directly on a varnish finish).
  • Wash – To clean butcher block, wipe the surface with a clean wash cloth dipped in hot water and mild dish soap. Rinse the wash cloth and wipe the butcher block again. (Never submerge your butcher block in water).
  • Dry – Using a paper towel or dish towel, dry the surface of your butcher block thoroughly. Store your cutting boards on edge to dry both sides completely, and to save counter space.

Deodorizing – Keep your butcher block smelling fresh.

  • Neutralize odors before they arise.
  • Fill a spray bottle with white vinegar.
  • From time to time, after you prepare food on your butcher block, clean the butcher block then spray vinegar onto it.
  • Allow it to stand for a least 30 seconds before rinsing and drying.

 Disinfecting – Occasionally disinfect your butcher block, especially after prepping raw meat, fish or poultry.

  • Clean butcher block first following the steps above.
  • It’s necessary to kill germs, not just reduce their count. You’ll need a disinfecting solution that destroys ALL microbes in 10 minutes.
  • Use a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. You can blend your own solution using 35% food-grade hydrogen peroxide by mixing one part with 11 parts of water.
  • Pour the hydrogen peroxide onto the butcher block, spread it around using a clean sponge or cloth and let it stand for 10 minutes.
  • Rinse the solution off of the butcher block surface by wiping with a clean, wet cloth. Then dry the butcher block thoroughly with a paper towel or dish cloth.
  • Follow the steps below to moisturize your butcher block.

Moisturizing – Butcher Block with an oil finish needs to be re-oiled to keep it from drying and cracking.

  • At least once a month (more often if used heavily), oil your butcher block.
  • Use a food-grade mineral oil like John Boos Mystery Oil. Apply the oil with a plastic grocery bag, spreading the oil over all surfaces. Let the oil stand over night to penetrate the wood.
  • The next morning, wipe off any excess oil using a paper towel.
  • Whereas oil penetrates the surface of wood to moisturize it, a good board cream will leave a silky, wax barrier. Seal in the moisture with John Boos Board Cream. Apply the cream over the butcher block like you would apply a moisturizing lotion. Let it sit for a few hours or over night. Wipe off any excess with a paper towel.
  • Note – Butcher Block with a varnish surface does not need to be moisturized with oil or cream.

These helpful tips are applicable any time of year, not just springtime. So remember to clean butcher block to keep it healthy and to protect your investment. All it takes is a little tender loving butcher block care.  For more information, check out our Complete Butcher Block Care and Repair Guide.

Tips for Cooking in Small Spaces

Tips for Cooking in Small Spaces

Cooking in small spaces doesn’t have to be scary if you’re equipped with the right information! Just about all of us have had at least one small apartment in our days, so the stress is likely familiar, but Sarah has some great tips to help keep you happy while you work. Let’s see if she can squeeze us in and give us a lesson?

Greetings, entertainers! I have designed the kitchen of my dreams multiple times, revising as my tastes change. It always has a dishwasher, lots of counter space, big, sunny windows, and a giant kitchen island. I have never had any of those things, but a girl can dream! Since I’m used to cooking in small spaces, I thought I’d share my tips today! It doesn’t take a gigantic, sunny kitchen to make food with big flavors.

Dedicate Space

When you’re short on counter space, the first thing to do is dedicate space for cooking and prep. I have a beautiful wooden cutting board that I try to keep clear, since that’s where I chop vegetables. This has necessitated me prioritizing my countertop space, and has led to me keeping small appliances tucked away unless I’m actively using them. My stand mixer goes in the pantry, my food processor goes in a drawer, and my coffee bean grinder is stowed away, too. I also make sure that my cutting board is clean, because that removes another barrier to me getting down to business.

One-Pot Wonders

My favorite recipes have fewer steps to prep, and with a small stove and sink, I have learned to love things I can make with one pan on the stove. These recipes usually involve browning meat, adding vegetables that cook quickly, and then adding liquids or tomato paste to make a sauce. After you’ve eaten and put leftovers away, you only have one pot to clean, so I’m done cleaning up before my hands get pruny. If you want more elements in your meal, roast vegetables in the oven while your main dish cooks on the stovetop. This gives you more flavors, and more crunch, without making a huge mess, or requiring super specific timing.

Clean Right Away

The least fun part of cooking a great meal is cleaning up (obviously the most fun part is eating it!). When cooking in small spaces, dishes pile up more easily in the sink and stove. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it feels like the kitchen is full of dirty dishes. Commit to cleaning measuring cups as you use them, and clean knives or any prep dishes as your meal cooks. Try to get your pans clean just after they’ve cooled, so any residual gunk doesn’t get crusty, which means more scrubbing.

Meal Prep

All hail the slow cooker! Planning meals ahead of time has been proven to lower your grocery bills and reduce stress throughout the week. This can be as easy as planning to cook two big meals on Sunday afternoons so you’ll have leftovers all week, or investing in a big slow cooker for roasts, soups, and more!

Slow cookers are a great solution for cooking in small spaces because you assemble and cook ingredients all in the same pot!

So if you have a busy social life after work during the week, or are just too tired to chop veggies and make sure the chicken is done, try a slow cooker meal to have something to look forward to when you get home.

Strategize

If you have an ambitious cooking adventure in mind, set yourself up for success by planning ahead. If you want to make macarons, plan where the cookies will cool while you mix up the filling. Christmas cookies? Maybe set up a small card table for a decorating station so you have enough room for multiple batches to go into the oven, cool, and be ready for frosting!

If you’re adjusting to a new small space, don’t feel discouraged or limited by having less counter space than the kitchen of your dreams. By making the most of the space you have, you’ll feel more organized and up for cooking in small spaces!

Ever Wonder Why Basketball Is Played On Maple Hardwood?

Ever Wonder Why Basketball Is Played On Maple Hardwood?

Everyone Knows March Madness Is Played on Hardwood. Ever Wonder Which Hardwood?

In 1891 parents in Springfield, Massachusetts challenged Dr. James Naismith to invent an indoor game that would condition and tire out kids during the long, cold New England winters. Famously, he nailed two peach baskets to the railing of the balcony in the YMCA gymnasium and changed history. The gym’s wooden floor was made of hard maple (acer saccharum).

More than a century later, rock maple remains the hardwood used by local Ys, the NCAA and all but one NBA team.(1)

 

So Why Rock Maple?

Maple flooring gained popularity in late-nineteenth-century America. Among other things, it was relatively abundant and hence, affordable. Plus, maple was known to be strong, durable and stable. Less likely to expand and contract in response to changes in temperature and humidity, maple is largely resistant to splintering. Measured on the Janka scale(2), rock maple is North America’s most resilient hardwood.

Moreover, maple’s exceptionally tight grain(3) prevents dirt and dust particles from seeping in between the wood’s fibers, making it an easy wood to clean and maintain. Finally, maple can be easily restored to look new again. These are all traits equally important for sports courts.

The ideal playing surface must be solid and consistent throughout to ensure that a basketball will bounce exactly the same (i.e., without recoil or dampening) when dribbled anywhere on the court, since even small differences can impact the game. But the ideal surface must also provide some degree of shock resistance or bounce-back, in order to minimize players’ fatigue and damage to their joints. Also, maple’s coloration is perfect for basketball, given the contrast between the game’s orange ball and the floor’s light to medium tans and browns. This helps make it easy for players to spot the ball on the court. The lightness of maple also aids in brightening arenas via the reflection of light off the floor.

 A Professional-Grade Basketball Court Will Set You Back $80 to $100k

The actual playing area of courts used by the NCAA and NBA measures 94 feet by 50 feet, but most incorporate a large perimeter, bringing overall floor dimensions to about 140 feet by 70 feet. The hard rock maple planks used are typically slightly thicker than ¾ of an inch, so it takes 80 to 100 trees to construct a single hardwood court. By the way, the NBA requires teams to replace their floor every 10 years.

The Big Dance Floor Will Be Offered to the Winner

Connor Sports (Elk Grove Village, IL) made the basketball courts used for 13 different NCAA conference championships. The modules that comprise these portable courts are shipped to regional tournament sites where they are assembled and eventually disassembled after play. Connor has also supplied the floors used in the Men’s and Women’s Final Four since 2005. These floors are also modular, but one-off custom designs that are offered for purchase to the winning schools who often display portions of the floor or cut the modules into smaller segments that can be sold to alumni or collectors via fundraisers.

The manufacturing process is remarkable; it even involves riding sander machines! Click the image below to watch this video on Youtube.

Here’s another time-lapse video showing workers installing the 2015 Final Four court – made of Northern rock maple harvested from Wisconsin – at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The Smartest Bet This March Madness Is on the Floor, Not the Brackets

It’s estimated that $10.4 billion will be wagered on 70 million brackets this time around (only 3% of those bets will be legal). Be smart and bet safe: for certain, all games will be played on North American rock maple!

(1) The famed Boston Garden features red oak in a distinctive parquet design, instead of maple.

(2) The Janka Hardness Scale measures the amount of pressure required to mar a wood sample.

(3) “Grain” typically means the physical structure and appearance of a wood surface and traces to the orientation of the wood’s cellulose fibers – the remnants of once-living longitudinal cells.

Food Processor Favorite – Olive Tapenade Recipe

Food Processor Favorite – Olive Tapenade Recipe

Are you a food processor aficionado? You should be! This versatile kitchen gadget, while large, makes short work of many tasks and will earn its keep every time you entertain. Sarah is here to share some of her favorite ways to use the food processor, along with a simple and versatile recipe for Olive Tapenade that is sure to please your palate. Alright, Sarah, get us all mixed up in this food processor world!

Greetings, entertainers. Let’s talk tech! I love kitchen gadgets, and when I was thinking around my kitchen for a favorite, one immediately sprang to mind. Not only is this gadget versatile, but it is easy to use, pretty noisy, and for me has some stress-relieving benefits.

I am, of course, speaking of none other than the food processor!

Why is a food processor so great? First, I never had one growing up, Food Processor so it went in the class of kitchen gadgets I thought of in my head as “super crazy technical and awesome” (along with the mandoline). I only ever saw them being used on cooking shows, and seeing professional chefs use them for everything made me want one pretty badly.

Fast forward a few years to when I finally put one in my own kitchen, and I’m a pretty happy camper. Do you want fresh salsa? Toss in a mango, some chiles in adobo sauce, and some fresh tomatoes. Run out of hummus halfway through the party? Never again. This thing is the king of dips, and as an added bonus, puts you in the front row to watch things being pulverized.

One of my favorite things to make with a food processor is tapenade. I usually have all the necessary ingredients in my kitchen, which mostly speaks to my love of olives (and anything salty). So let’s get down to it—how do we make this treat for your guests?

Ingredients

  • Olives. I like to use a combination of olives from the olive bar at my grocery store, but if you have a favorite, that works, too. Kalamata olives make great tapenade that turns out a pretty purple color. The key here is no pits.
  • Olive oil. Seems unnecessary, right? Wrong. Just a drizzle is absolutely necessary to getting your tapenade a smoother consistency.
  • Capers. Just a few!
  • Lemon juice. Salt loves acid. Enough said.

Food Processor

Directions

Assemble your food processor. For me, this means choosing the correct-size bowl, and determining which blade to use. I chose a smallish 4-cup bowl to keep my ingredients close together, and the standard chop blade that came with my machine. Some food processors offer doodads that julienne and add all kinds of awesome knifework to your ingredients. Olives are so small that it’s not necessary here.

Add olives! I chose a mix of dried black olives, red pepper Spanish queens, and kalamata. I used enough to almost cover the bottom of my food processor, but for a party, you’ll want closer to 2 cups.

Now capers. I used a heavy hand because I know I like the pungency. I wouldn’t use more than a teaspoon-full for guests.

I squeezed half a lemon using another favorite gadget—a citrus juicer. Pro tip—put your citrus in flat side down so that the squeeze turns the lemon inside-out.

Turn your food processor on low to blend your ingredients. I let it go about twenty seconds, or until the food stops moving around the bowl.

Once your olives are all stuck to the sides of your bowl, turn the processor off, remove the lid, and scrape the sides. Now, the magic. Add a little bit of olive oil, and turn it back on low. I’d recommend about a tablespoon, or enough to keep the pulverized bits moving around the bowl as the machine goes.

Do the check, scrape, add olive oil thing until your tapenade is the consistency you like, and then serve with pita chips or pita bread (I’m a sucker for pita bread with tapenade!). If you want to make it extra fancy, toast your pita in a pan on the stove first with a little butter.

So what are your favorite kitchen gadgets? Any that were a childhood dream realized as an adult (I know I’m a huge nerd)? Happy entertaining, hosts!

 

Walnut Butcher Block Tops

Walnut Butcher Block Tops

Walnut butcher block has become incredibly popular over the last few years, and we totally understand why: it is GORGEOUS! A while back we had a customer who needed to exchange his blended walnut butcher block countertop for a different finish. The top was 107″ long and absolutely beautiful, and it just so happened to be in Phoenix. A couple of us here at Butcher Block Co. decided we could find use for this beauty, so we each embarked on a DIY journey to create our own masterpieces.

We hope these two projects will help inspire you to bring walnut butcher block (or any butcher block) into your home!

Candice’s Island Top

About 10 years ago I inherited a kitchen island that was originally used as a store display, and I have wanted to refinish it ever since. I got as far as replacing the wooden knobs with cute ceramic ones, but the improvement wasn’t exactly notable. The biggest problem was the top. It was cheap and too soft to use as a butcher block, not to mention completely unappealing to my tastes. Thankfully the perfect solution presented itself in the walnut butcher block being exchanged by our customer. It was already the ideal depth at 30″, and I only needed 51″ in length to give my island a nice 2.5″ overhang on each end, expanding my work surface a bit more than the previous top.

After a couple hours of wrenching the original pine top off my island (seriously, there were something like 18 screws…a little overkill!), I was able to start sanding the base so it could be painted. Unfortunately I do not possess quite enough upper arm strength to power sand 25 years of buildup off a table base, so I enlisted some help at this point. I bought some spray paint in a nice almond shade, went out of town for a week, and came home to a fully transformed kitchen island (do I have the best dog-sitter/friend or what?!)!

The oil finish already on this block was the right option for me, as I am using this as a prep table to do all my chopping. My favorite part of every month is when it is time to oil my block – there is just nothing quite as beautiful as a freshly oiled walnut butcher block. My ugly old island has become one of my most prized possessions.

Walnut Butcher Block

Kathleen’s Kitchen Table

My son was moving into his new home and we gifted him the oak breakfast nook my husband designed 25 years ago. It was a perfect excuse for us to finally upgrade to the kitchen table of our dreams.  We have always wanted a bar height kitchen table to match our dark mahogany colored kitchen cabinets. And luck would have it, we were able to repurpose this blended walnut butcher block countertop that was returned to Butcher Block Co.  Using the “other half” of the top Candice used, we were able to make a kitchen table 59”L x 36”W.

We started with an oil finish blended walnut top, our “half” was 56”L x 30”W x 1.5”. We sanded it down to completely remove the oil finish that was applied at the factory.  This table was a little small for us, so we added a 3” mahogany rail on the sides and a 1.5” wide rail on the ends using a biscuit joiner.  We chose a 3” thick rail of mahogany so that the finished table appeared to be a chunky 3” thick, even though the butcher block was just 1.5” thick. Further sanding smoothed out the seams. We did not have any desire to cut upon this butcher block, so we decided to stain it to match our cabinets, using a Zar brand wood stain. And because we were looking for a low maintenance table top, we knew we wanted to go with a polyurethane finish, applying 4 coats to the top.

The base of our table consists of 2 bar height metal disc bases.  We hired a family friend to weld the custom foot rest that attaches to the metal base. Then we sent the bases and footrest to a local business to powder coat them to match the metal on our bar stools. Our finished table is gorgeous.  The walnut colored stain brought out the beautiful grain patterns in our blended walnut butcher block. And this top is so low maintenance that all I need to do is wipe it clean and use Pledge on the top to keep it looking new.

 

Homemade Soup – Slow Cooker Thai Chicken

Homemade Soup – Slow Cooker Thai Chicken

A big bowl of homemade soup is just the ticket for these cold winter months, and with this Saturday being Homemade Soup Day, now is the perfect time to share a fantastic recipe that will warm you right up! It is also most definitely slow cooker season, so we’ve got Sarah here with a souper (sorry…) easy dish to come home to on a chilly night. Warm us up, Sarah!

In the dead of winter, I know I can always warm up from the inside out with a good bowl of homemade soup (and good bread!). I live in the snowbelt and experience a wonderful phenomenon known as the lake effect, which means I can expect a foot or more of snow overnight without Mother Nature blinking an eye. It’s great when you’re in school because there are snow days, but as an adult with a job, the traffic jam that doubles my commute home means that I am looking forward to dinner being ready when I get there.

Enter the slow cooker, one of my favorite kitchen appliances. You can throw raw ingredients together in the morning and come home to a fully-cooked meal.

My favorite homemade soup this winter has been a creamy coconut milk-based Thai chicken soup.

Adapted from this recipe, this soup is tangy and a little bit spicy. It gets better as you get deeper in your bowl.

Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Soup

  • 1 ½ lb. chicken (3 frozen chicken breasts)
  • 1 bunch cilantro (or 1 squeeze from herbs in a tube)
  • 1 heaping tsp ginger
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bag frozen peas
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 TBS red curry paste
  • 5 TBS fish sauce
  • 1 TBS lemon juice
  • 3 TBS peanut butter
  • 4 TBS brown sugar
  • 2 TBS soy sauce
  • 1 TBS sriracha

Instructions on this one are pretty simple: Load up your slow cooker, turn it on low, and go about your day. I turn it up to high for a bit when I get home from work. I doubt it does anything, but it FEELS hotter. When you are ready for dinner, remove the chicken breasts and cut them up (lazy girl shortcut). This is great served over rice, but I love a brothy soup (as evidenced by my midnight whiskey chicken soup obsession). The combination of peanut butter, red curry paste, and fish sauce will keep you dipping your spoon until you’ve eaten a bowl or more. So good it sneaks up on you.

Homemade Soup

My favorite serving suggestion with Thai chicken soup is thick, crusty bread spread thick with good butter. A diced red pepper wouldn’t go amiss in this concoction, and I wouldn’t turn my nose up at tossing in baby corn or plain frozen sweetcorn.

What are your favorite deep winter recipes? What is the best side to serve with homemade soup? Do you like your soup piping hot or more lukewarm? I am in camp “hot enough to burn my mouth,” just like my mother, and I will never learn.

A New Year Brings a New Pantone Color of the Year: Greenery

A New Year Brings a New Pantone Color of the Year: Greenery

A yellowish green, Pantone’s Greenery is reminiscent of nature and reminds us all to slow down a bit and smell the great outdoors. 

It’s critical that artists, designers, manufacturers and printers around the world “speak” a common “color language.” Toward that end, Pantone’s proprietary Color Matching System helps ensure standardized reproduction of colors across geographies, users and applications. Pantone’s system includes over 1000 unique colors, each of which can be simulated with a specific mix of 14 base pigments. Each color is assigned a distinct, numeric identifier.

Like other companies involved in the design industry, Pantone stays abreast of evolving trends and changes in consumer tastes. Each year the company selects a representative “Color of the Year” that it believes best captures the world’s collective mood. They think of it as a snapshot of worldwide cultural trends at a particular point in time.

For 2017, the company sees Greenery, Pantone 15-0343, as best fitting the bill. It’s a soft and warm shade of green that Pantone describes as “refreshing and revitalizing” and “symbolic of new beginnings.”

They believe Greenery connotes “flourishing foliage and the lushness of the great outdoors,” reminding people to “take a deep breath, oxygenate and reinvigorate.”

“Considering the harried pace of society today and the rapidity of technological change, Pantone’s message seems timely and spot-on,” suggests small-business owner Mark Shook. He and his sales team at Butcher Block Co., an online-only store specializing in kitchen furniture and equipment, much like the color trend-setters at Pantone, are in position to observe changing consumer tastes. “Homeowners and apartment dwellers view kitchens as their safe rooms – quiet and soothing places where they can get away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. That’s why many are opting for naturally beautiful wood countertops and John Boos butcher block kitchen islands and tables with bases painted Basil Green or Clover Green,” Shook opines, in support of Pantone’s 2017 selection, Greenery.

For more information, please visit https://butcherblockco.com

Contact Info:
Name: Kathleen Grodsky
Organization: Butcher Block Co.
Address: 10448 N 21st Pl Phoenix, Arizona 85028

Christmas Cookies – Cherry Cordial Cream Cheese Cookies

Christmas Cookies – Cherry Cordial Cream Cheese Cookies

Need some simple, yummy Christmas cookies to make for your holiday cookie exchange? Or just to have on hand because, well, Christmas cookies are delicious? Sarah has an easy, tasty recipe to share with us today that will surely please a crowd.

In my experience, there are two kinds of people who bake. People who love to bake, and people who wish it wasn’t quite so… involved. The holiday season brings with it the anticipated (or dreaded) holiday parties and cookie exchanges. I, for one love any chance to be a little extra festive and fancy (and enjoy a few cocktails, clearly), but I also want an “easy” button.

Today’s recipe—Cherry Cordial Cream Cheese Cookies—is a little less involved than other Christmas cookies I’ve made, and the end result tastes great!

This recipe was a challenge for me, because I love to tweak things I already know, and I knew this recipe was good using lemon juice and lemon zest. I also had a dark red cherry liqueur on-hand. And it’s the Christmas season… I really wanted these to be pink cookies with green lime zest on top, but we don’t always get everything we want from Santa, either. The cherry flavor from the cherry liqueur is much more subtle than you think it will be in the finished product, and the dough soaks it right up, so feel free to use a heavy hand.

Cherry Cordial Cream Cheese Cookies

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • Cherry liqueur (approximately 5/8 to 3/4 cup)
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

-Cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar together. This will be a crumbly mixture with a clump of butter and cream cheese stuck to your mixer paddle. Don’t panic.

-Add the egg. Hooray for egg! This will give you something more akin to a standard cookie’s wet ingredient mixture.

-Add the cornstarch, baking soda, and salt.

-Add the flour and cherry liqueur alternately. Mix half a cup of flour into your wet mixture and turn your mixer on for a moment to combine. This will get crumbly. Stop your mixer and add 2 tablespoons of cherry liqueur, then turn your mixer back on to combine. Repeat until you’ve added 2 ½ cups of flour and then balanced it out with cherry liqueur.

-This is an opportunity to either chill your dough, or the start of the period of time where you need to work quickly. Use your hands to form balls of dough about ½ an inch to 1 inch in size (I am terrible at uniform cookie sizes), and space about an inch apart on a greased cookie sheet. I am a big fan of shortcuts in the kitchen, but my best tip today is to use the biggest baking sheet that will fit in your oven, so you’ll be making fewer batches of these bad boys.

-Bake 8-10 minutes at 350°.

These cookies beg for some sugar, and maybe some citrus, so you have two (easy!) options to finish them. The first is to top them with powdered sugar and lemon or lime zest. This takes seconds, looks nice, and adds a hit of sweetness. I used my zester to sift the powdered sugar, since I don’t own a sieve. Scoop a small spoonful onto the backside of your zester, holding it horizontally over your cookies. Tap the side of the zester lightly and voilà! Rinse your zester and grate some lemon (or lime—green for Christmas!) zest on top.

Your second option is to make a glaze. This is going to require some time to dry, and may make transporting the finished product more difficult. However, a glaze adds a massive hit of sugar, which is beneficial to a more muffin-y cookie. Mix half a tablespoon of milk with half a tablespoon of your flavoring of choice—lemon juice or cherry liqueur are good choices in this instance. Add confectioner’s sugar bit by bit until you have a dippable consistency (about ¾ of a cup). Dunk the tops of your (cooled!) cookies in the glaze and let dry on a rack or plate before storing (or snacking—or not, I can’t tell you how to live your best life!).

These Christmas cookies are not pink. They are not super sweet. They do not punch you in the face with bold cherry flavor. But they do have a very moist, dense consistency thanks to the cream cheese. And with a glaze or dusting of powdered sugar on top, they are a perfectly balanced bite that you and your cookie exchange participants will enjoy sharing while celebrating the holidays. Happy everything to you and yours!

Cozy Christmas Drinks to Put You in the Holiday Spirit

Cozy Christmas Drinks to Put You in the Holiday Spirit

Get into the cozy Christmas mood with these festive cocktails from Claire (you know how we love a seasonal drink!). Whether you are spending a quiet night in or hosting a holiday party, Claire has you covered in the cocktail department! Let’s get mixing, Claire!

This year seems to have gone by in record time, which is good, because 2016 has been a real stinker and I’m not going to miss it when it’s done. Usually in December, all I want to do is get cozy and Christmassy, but this year I’ve been having a tougher time than I normally do getting festive. Luckily, I have devised a brilliant, alcohol-fueled plan to grease my Christmas spirit wheels, and it all starts today, as I trim my tree.

A cozy Christmas cocktail is the perfect way to fire up the holiday spirit!

As a child of a mixed-religious union, I grew up celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah, though with so many fun activities involved, Christmas always won out as the bigger deal of the two. Our family tradition was to spend Christmas day at our Grandma’s house, so we didn’t always have a tree in our house. Well, I am a strong believer in creating your own holiday traditions, so now that I have my own house, I always have a Christmas tree, no matter where I’ll be on Christmas day. The week after Thanksgiving, Pier and I go out to the tree lot, we pick out a tree, and then he helps me set it up so I can decorate it. Well, this year, Pier has had to work late all week so I went to the tree lot by myself. I tied the tree to my car by myself and then unloaded and stood it up by myself. I knew I was going to need some powerful holiday magic to get me through decorating by myself. What better than hot cocoa? I used to always make Mexican hot chocolate from scratch whenever I got a craving for cocoa, but I found that I actually wanted cocoa more often than I was willing to put the effort into the process. Since then, I have gotten smarter and/or lazier, and I have adapted my own recipe for an instant mix from Alton Brown’s own recipe (so you know it must be good).

Mix together one and a half to two cups of powdered sugar, one cup of unsweetened cocoa powder, two and a half cups of dry milk powder, two teaspoons of cornstarch, and one teaspoon of salt. Add cinnamon and cayenne pepper to suit your taste. I like a lot of heat in mine, so I go a little heavier on the cayenne. Just add hot water, et voilà, you’re in cocoa heaven. This mix can keep for a whole year in an air-tight container, but I doubt it will last longer than a month, especially if you prepare it the way I like it best. Put two spoonfuls of cocoa mix into your mug. Add some coffee if you have some made, or a little bit of instant espresso if you don’t. Pour in hot water, leaving about an inch of space at the top. Stir until everything is dissolved, then fill the space to the top with Irish cream. Top it with marshmallows (obviously) and you are ready to get cozy while you untangle your lights!

Cozy Christmas

Cocoa is nice while I enjoy the Fireplace for Your Home on Netflix, but it can be a little rich for everyday drinking. For something equally warming, I recommend mulled cider. Mulling spices make some of the best smells on the planet, and they go great with the piney smell of the Christmas tree. This will make your home smell like a cozy Christmas cabin. To make mulled cider, just pour some good apple juice or cider into a saucepan. Add a tangerine, either pierced with cloves, or sliced. Also add a couple of whole star anise, a good tablespoon or so of allspice berries, and two or three cinnamon sticks, cracked. I like to add some ginger to my cider as well, because I like the kick. Add a little wine, if you like, and bring the whole pot to a gentle boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, and strain. If you need an extra pick-me-up, bourbon, rum or brandy will all blend beautifully with your cider.

Cozy Christmas

Of course, the Christmas season isn’t just about cuddling. December has only just started, and I already have three parties on my calendar. Hot cider works nicely at a quiet dinner party or a bonfire, but for a traditional Christmas soiree, I’d say that punch is best. It can be made in large batches, so the host doesn’t have to tend bar, and it makes a festive and stylish centerpiece. There are a lot of ways you can go with your punch, but I think it’s nice to keep it simple. For this one, simply pour a whole bottle of sparking white wine (Prosecco, Champagne, whatever!) into your punch bowl. Add a cup of cranberry juice cocktail, half a cup of vodka, and a squeeze of lemon or orange juice to taste. I like to freeze a bag of cranberries and throw them into the bowl, too. They help keep the punch cold, and they add a festive flair. I also recommend setting your punch bowl on top of a bowl of ice or some freezer packs wrapped in a napkin or towel to keep it chilled.

Cozy Christmas

Whatever you’re drinking this holiday season, I hope you are with people who love you, or at least a cat that doesn’t mind sharing the room with you. Happy holidays to you and yours.

How to Stress Less this Thanksgiving

How to Stress Less this Thanksgiving

Stress less this Thanksgiving with some great tips from Claire. My mom and brothers do pretty much everything for Thanksgiving in my family, so I couldn’t really stress less even if I tried. For those of you who take a more active role, keep these tips in mind to help yourself get through the day. Tell us what to do, Claire!

The world hasn’t ended quite yet, which means that Thanksgiving is still going to be just next week, if you can believe it. If you’re like me, you have been so worried about an uncertain future that you have all but forgotten about the upcoming holiday. In my case, that says a lot, because the holidays where I get to cook for people are kind of my favorite. In such a time, I think we can all use a little bit of help pulling together a successful Thanksgiving party.

After a week of hand-wringing, this is what I’ve come up with to help us all stress less.

  1. Put away the Halloween decorations that are still sitting around on your front porch. I know you’ve been distracted this week, but the skeleton is sending the wrong message to your guests, who are expecting your home to be a safe space. The corn stalks and decorative pumpkins can stay because they are generically autumnal and more harvest-oriented than the rubber rats and giant spider.
  1. Speaking of decorative pumpkins, now is the time to pick up some additional seasonal gourds. The few remaining pumpkin patches might even have some on sale. They make great centerpieces and look lovely and festive artfully arranged in a bowl on the front hall table. If you are making centerpieces for your table, though, keep them on the smaller side. You want to leave lots of space on the table for dishes, and you also don’t want to block anyone’s view across the table.

stress less

  1. Pick up the tablecloth from the dry-cleaners. Remember when you dropped it off there like 3 months ago? The cleaners don’t charge storage fees, but maybe they should.
  1. Invite friends and people you love. We can’t all be with our families at the holidays, and maybe we don’t all want to be. If you are hosting Thanksgiving, why not cast a net for friends who don’t have a nearby or welcoming family? This year especially, many people will be looking for something for which to be thankful, and a warm and welcoming table is a good start.
  1. Make mulled cider. If you start it in the morning, your house will smell like heaven all day. Aside from that, if you are preparing a Thanksgiving feast, you have a long day on your feet ahead of you. You definitely want to stay sober until you sit down at the table. Sipping on cider will help you stress less; it is satisfying and warming, but not alcoholic enough to incapacitate you before dinner starts.
  1. Pick out all of your serving dishes ahead of time. Make sure you haven’t accidentally double-booked your purple ceramic casserole dish like last year and then you don’t know what you’re going to serve the stuffing in. Hypothetically speaking, obviously.

Stress less

  1. You are going to be hecka busy with that bird and that gravy and that stuffing and those beans and potatoes. Allow yourself to stress less by finding a couple of people who are willing to wash dishes as you go , tend bar, and make an emergency last-minute run to the grocery store (don’t act like you’re not going to need one).
  1. You’re not kidding anyone with that green salad. No one will have room left on their plates for vegetables that haven’t been cooked in bacon fat or cream of mushroom soup, and you’re probably going to need the roughage the next day, so you might as well save yourself the time on Thursday.
  1. Empty out your fridge this weekend so you don’t have to sort through it after work on Tuesday to make room. Order a fresh bird today so you aren’t stuck next Thursday morning with a frozen bird that will never thaw in time. Figure out what you can make ahead of time, and get it done early.
  1. If you’re attending as a guest, ask your host what you can bring or do to help. If they don’t give you any direction, just bring a bottle of wine and start doing dishes. If you are bringing a side dish, also bring something attractive to serve it in.

I think a small amount of stress is pretty normal for hosting any kind of social gathering, but hosting this event should be fun. My way to stress less is to micro-manage and juggle the entire meal by myself, but maybe yours is to have a pot-luck! The worst reason to do a thing is because that’s the way your parents did it, so make your own traditions! And hold your loved ones close. Despite global warming, this is going to be a cold winter. Happy Thanksgiving.