Holiday Cocktails – Hot Chocolate, Pancake Shots, and More!

Holiday Cocktails – Hot Chocolate, Pancake Shots, and More!

Chef J wants you to make it through the holidays with a smile on your face! This week he shares some festive holiday cocktails that are sure to brighten up your party!

We’re on the home stretch toward the big holiday parties! Whether your celebrations are populated by hip friends in freshly pressed suits and little black dresses or extended family in terrible Christmas sweaters that aren’t being worn ironically, chances are the tie that binds is sweet, sweet liquor. It doesn’t matter if you’re hitting the eggnog bright and early or waiting for that final champagne toast: booze is what makes the party world turn. Holiday cocktails bring people together, coax strangers to mingle, and make your aunt’s “famous” casserole almost edible! Anthropologists believe that civilization started because of the discovery and production of alcohol; so the least you can do is put up with grandma’s never ending interrogation about why you aren’t married yet for one night!

Here are a few recipes for fun holiday cocktails that will surely liven up your party.

If you want to be extra festive keep a supply of holiday themed sprinkles, maraschino cherries (they come in red and green), grenadine, food coloring, whipped cream, maybe some fresh mint leaves, fresh berries, etc. The holidays need to be decorated; there is no reason to exclude your drinks. Mix a teaspoon of grenadine in some ginger ale for the kids (or champagne for the old kids) with a green maraschino cherry for flare. Shake some chocolate sprinkles over your hot cocoa to show them that you care. And a spoonful of cream will float on the top of most heavy liqueurs to give your shots a festive, snow-capped look.

A little razzle-dazzle will go a long way to secure your place as the greatest holiday party host of all time!

Best Hot Chocolate Ever

  • 8 oz. milk chocolate
  • 4 oz. white chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup toasted hazelnuts, ground
  • 8 oz. cream
  • 1 gal milk
  • 4 oz. Frangelico (optional- can be added later)
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt

Melt the chocolate, sugar and cream together.
Heat the milk in a large pot. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the milk along with the hazelnuts; bring to a simmer.
Strain the hazelnuts out of the liquid and add the liqueur, nutmeg and salt.

Apple Cider

  • 64 oz. unfiltered apple juice
  • 32 oz. water
  • ½ lemon, sliced
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3-4 whole cloves
  • ½ cup honey
  • Brandy

Bring all ingredients, except Brandy, to a simmer. Let steep for at least 30 minutes (you can do this a day early and reheat to serve to get more spicy flavor). Serve hot. Season to taste with Brandy. Leave the Brandy on the side so the kids and drivers can have cider, too!

Pancake Shot

  • 1 ½ oz. maple whiskey
  • ½ oz. Irish Cream

Pour the whiskey into a shot glass.
Slowly pour the Irish Cream into it, the cream will sink.
Shoot it!

Christmas Mint Shot

  • ½ oz. Grenadine
  • 1 oz. Creme de Menthe

Pour the grenadine into a shot glass.
Carefully spoon the Creme de Menthe over the grenadine so that it floats on top.
(Peppermint Schnapps will work in place of the Creme de Menthe if you want clear/red instead of green/red).

Ginger Berry Tummy Tonic

  • 1 oz. Bourbon
  • ½ oz. Raspberry liqueur
  • 8 oz. Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic, “real” ginger ale)

Add the Bourbon and Raspberry Liqueur to a champagne flute or rocks glass.
Pour the Ginger Beer over it.
Serve chilled or over ice.
This one helps the ol’ tummy after a long night of stuffing your face with delicious holiday treats!

Do you have a favorite holiday cocktail? Share with us! No, really, share with us!
Printer friendly recipes: Holiday Cocktails

holiday cocktails

Christmas Dinner: Pork Tenderloin, Brussels Sprouts, Mac & Cheese

Christmas Dinner: Pork Tenderloin, Brussels Sprouts, Mac & Cheese

It’s time once again for Christmas dinner. How super excited are you for another big, fat ham?! Maybe with some pineapple slices stapled around it? Wow! My mouth is watering just thinking about another greasy, syrupy slice! You know what would go well with that? Some store bought, boxed stuffing! Oh sweet culinary delight! Is my sarcasm coming across? I can never tell. How about this: this year we’re going to make a Christmas dinner that is equal in comfort to the classics that we’re used to, but this time we’ll make it quicker, easier, healthier, deliciouser, and all around betterer. Here are a few recipes that will please your table without overwhelming you with grocery shopping, dishes, and grey-hair-making time management.

All of these dishes can be drastically modified to accommodate your taste and the ingredients you have on hand…creating your own perfect Christmas Dinner.

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
Spice Rub:

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp chopped, fresh rosemary
  • ½ tsp allspice

Combine all ingredients and set aside.

Pork Tenderloin and Filling:

  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • 1/3 cup Feta cheese
  • ½ a sweet apple, chopped
  • 1/3 cup toasted, chopped pecans
  • ¼ cup chopped shallot
  • 1 TBS balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp spice rub

Combine all ingredients except tenderloin and set aside.

You can usually find pork tenderloins packed in brine at your standard supermarket. If you have a nice butcher shop close by you will be treated to a much better product, but you will want to soak the tenderloin in brine overnight, or at least for a few hours, to help it retain moisture. Remove the silver skin by carefully cutting under the thickest part of that connective tissue with a thin sharp knife, such as a filet knife. Hold that end with a paper towel to get a firm grip, gently cut along the length of the silver skin with your knife angled up so that you remove it while leaving as much of the meat as possible. When that is all cleaned up it’s time to butterfly. Simply cut through the tenderloin lengthwise until you can fold it open, leaving a solid, flat piece of pork. Very gently pound it with a meat mallet or empty wine bottle to flatten and thin it out. Again, a real butcher shop is your best bet- they will do all of this for you!

Heat your oven to 350. Pile the filling into the center of the pork tenderloin. Carefully roll the tenderloin up around the filling. Tie the Pork up with butcher’s twine so that the filling cannot spill out. Season the outside of the tenderloin with the remaining spice rub. Heat an oven safe pan to medium. Sear the tenderloin on three sides until just golden brown, when you get to the fourth side throw the pan in the oven and let it go for about 25 minutes. When the center of the roast reaches 160 remove it from the pan and set it aside. Let the roast rest for at least 5 minutes before removing the string and slicing. There will be some tasty dripping left in the pan that can easily be turned into a sauce by whisking together a bit more herbs, a dollop of grain mustard or a sprinkle of flour, and a half a glass of cider, beer, or wine. Simmer to reduce. Season to taste.

christmas dinner pork tenderloin

Roasted Brussels SproutsChristmas Dinner brussel sprouts

  • 1 lb. fresh or frozen Brussels sprouts
  • 4 strips bacon, chopped
  • 2 TBS finely chopped shallot
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp orange zest
  • Salt & pepper

Heat your oven to 350. Slowly cook the bacon over medium heat to render out the fat in a small frying pan. Save 1 tablespoon of the fat for the mac and cheese you’ll be making. In a roasting pan, toss the bacon with the remaining ingredients and mix up to make sure the sprouts are nicely coated. Roast for about 20 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. The cooking time will depend on how done you like your sprouts; you can let them go for about 15 minutes for a crunchier, fresher Brussels sprout or cook the heck out of them for about 25 minutes, letting them soak up all of that great bacon fat.

Mac & Cheese

  • 1 lb. macaroni, cooked
  • 1 TBS fat (bacon is best!)
  • 1 TBS flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup of your favorite cheese, shredded
  • Salt & pepper

Mix the fat and flour together in a large pot over medium heat and cook for 3-4 minutes, whisking continually until it starts to bubble up and take on a golden color. Slowly whisk in the milk. Add the nutmeg and bring to a simmer. Slowly mix in the cheese and stir until melted. Add the cooked macaroni and stir to coat. Season to taste.

 

Printer friendly recipes: Christmas Dinner Recipes

Holiday Cookies Make Everything Better!

Holiday Cookies Make Everything Better!

Chef J is back to talk about Holiday Cookies! This week he shares a basic cookie dough recipe that can be customized to your liking, plus an old family recipe for some awesome peanut butter cookies.

Remember when you were little and you would leave a plate of raw carrots and broccoli with a side of ranch dressing out for Santa Clause? No? Maybe it’s because that’s gross and nobody wants that stuff. Yet every year, at every party, there is a crudites platter; sitting quietly in the corner, tossing out awkward glances, hoping to catch someone’s eye like that weird uncle that no one remembers inviting. Let’s not waste vegetables: we want cookies! The holidays are about cramming as much sugary goodness into our face hole as possible! They’re also about family and tradition and love and stuff, but mostly cookies. Walk into any party with a tray full of chewy, gooey holiday cookies and you will be surrounded by friends. Cookies will dry the tears of your whiny niece, end the political rant of your cranky grandpa, and even soften the daggers of your judgmental aunt.

You can build them yourself with relatively little effort and you are limited only by your imagination! A great way to expand your cookie catalog without dirtying extra dishes is with a holiday cookie exchange- recruit a few friends and each pick a couple of kinds of cookies to make. Make a bit extra and trade them around. I recommend freezing the dough before baking. You can go from freezer to oven, ensuring that you are never more than 13 minutes away from freshly baked cookies. Freezing also gives you a better result: when making the dough, if you over mix you will end up with a tough cookie since the gluten gets all worked up. And if you don’t let it sit long enough you end up with crumbly cookies. By freezing (or even storing in the refrigerator), you allow the gluten to relax and the flour to absorb the liquid, giving you a perfectly chewy, moist treat! If you have room in your freezer, you can freeze individual portions of dough on a cookie sheet and then store in a zipper bag after they have frozen solid. Otherwise, roll up a log of cookie dough in parchment paper and just slice into pucks when you’re ready to bake.

Here is a basic dough recipe. You can add an extra 2 TBS of dry ingredients (cocoa powder, spices, etc.), and 2-3 cups of “name” ingredients, as in the word before Cookies (chocolate chips, pecans, dried cranberries, and so on…).

Basic Cookie Dough
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

  • 8 oz butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 oz maple syrup or honey
  • 1 TBS vanilla
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 package instant pudding
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 375.
Cream together the butter, sugar, maple syrup, vanilla and salt.
Add the eggs one at a time.
Sift together the flour, pudding and soda and slowly add to the mixture.
Fold in the goodies of your choice.
Scoop onto a lined baking sheet and bake 11-13 minutes.
My favorite cookie of all time is the Peanut Blossom! My Swedish grandmother would make these every year and I would eat so many that I would have a tummy ache until New Year’s. My mom would try to hide them under the peas in the freezer, so I can tell you they are great frozen!

Peanut Blossoms
Makes 3-4 dozen cookies

  • ½ cup shortening
  • ¾ cup peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 oz milk
  • 1 TBS vanilla
  • 1½ cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Sugar
  • A bunch of chocolate kisses, about 48 (plus more for munching!)

Preheat oven to 325.
Cream together the shortening, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar.
Mix in the egg, milk and vanilla.
Combine the flour, soda and salt, and slowly add to the peanut butter mixture.
Roll the dough into 1” balls, roll in sugar and gently press onto a lined baking sheet.
Bake about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and press a kiss into the warm cookie.

Printer friendly recipes: Basic Cookie Dough Recipe  Peanut Blossoms Recipe

Holiday Cookie 2

photo by Alicia Thompson at www.ohmygoshimsoexcited.com

Leftover Turkey – What To Do With All That Goodness

Leftover Turkey – What To Do With All That Goodness

Now that you know how to roast and carve your turkey, you can start thinking about what to do with all those delicious leftovers!

Chef J shares a couple of his favorite recipes for leftover turkey so you don’t get bored by day three!

It’s the same every year: we’re afraid that there won’t be enough food so we buy the biggest turkey we can find. Then we spend the next week trying to figure out how to get rid of leftover turkey! The turkey sandwich is a classic for a reason, but you might have a hard time selling it by Monday. I like to give mine a twist with a heaping shmear of strawberry cream cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. But there are a few other tricks that can help you utilize the rest of your Thanksgiving feast; one of my favorite, easy ways to use leftover turkey is the quesadilla. I know, it’s not a big stretch from a sandwich, but a little melted cheese goes a long way. And you might get a few odd looks, but try some leftover turkey on your waffles Sunday morning, swimming in maple syrup.

Apple Turkey Quesadillacheese crisp

  • 1 large flour tortilla
  • ½ cup shredded Swiss cheese (or similar mild cheese)
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • ¼ of a green apple, thinly sliced
  • 4 oz shredded or sliced leftover turkey

Place the tortilla on a hot griddle and evenly sprinkle on the cheese and rosemary. Layer the apples, then the turkey, over half of the tortilla. When the cheese has melted enough to stick to the tortilla fold it in half. Grill for about a minute and a half on each side until the tortilla is golden brown and the cheese is melty. Slice it up and enjoy! It’s also very good with a dab of sour cream and even a little bit of leftover cranberry sauce!

Another simple staple of mine is teriyaki. It’s easy and healthy but has a comfort food feel that should please both the refined palettes of the culinary snobs as well as the picky eaters at your table. The sauce is quick to make, it will keep in the fridge for at least a week or can be frozen for the long term. Drizzle it over some reheated leftover turkey, with some rice, maybe a little sliced scallion, and break out the chopsticks! You can play with this recipe quite a bit- make it sweeter, spicier, garlicky-er, you can add a little wasabi or even a bit of chipotle. It also makes a nice glaze for meats and veggies on the grill!

Teriyaki Sauce

  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tsp fresh, grated ginger
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp chile flakes
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • ½ tsp white pepper (or about ¼ tsp of black pepper)
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 2 tsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tsp water

Mix all of the ingredients together except for the cornstarch slurry. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Mix in the slurry and simmer for another 4-5 minutes to thicken up a bit. Serve over leftover turkey with rice.

 

What do you do with leftover turkey?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Printer friendly recipes: Leftover Turkey Recipes

 

Turkey Carving Tips from a Pro

Turkey Carving Tips from a Pro

chef jSo, you read last week’s blog and are all prepped to make a delicious Thanksgiving turkey, right? Now you just need to know how to get that bird from roasting pan to table! Chef J is back with some turkey carving tips to teach you how to do it the right way.

That lovely carving set you got as a wedding gift (you know, the one with the two-prong fork and thin knife), is pretty useless for turkey carving and will do more harm than good here. Sorry about that… You should have a very sharp carving or chef’s knife for this, along with a pair of tongs, and some good old fashioned fingers. Some vinyl food service gloves will help keep things clean and prevent your hands from getting too hot.

Turkey Carving:

  • Position your beautiful birdy on a carving board so that the ends of the drumsticks are pointing toward you, breast-side up.
  • Pull the leg up and out to expose the joint. Using the tip of your knife, cut through the joint and socket. Gently pull the drumstick away from the body while “following” with your knife; the leg should cleanly separate from the body with you doing minimal cutting. You know what a drumstick looks like! Now do that again on the other side. You can serve these whole to two lucky guests or slice them up to share the love. To carve the leg, simply hold the small end upright with the fat end on your board. Slice straight down through the meat and rotate, leaving behind the bone and connective tissue.
  • To get at the white meat, rotate the turkey, or your board, so that the wings and breasts are pointed toward you and the (now missing) legs are facing away. There is a ridge bone running down the center of the breast; start about half an inch to the side of center, slicing parallel to the ridge. Cut gently, letting the rib cage guide your knife as you slice all the way through toward your cutting board while pulling the meat away in one large piece. Repeat for the other side. You will have two breast pieces and a relatively clean rib cage (don’t worry if there is a bit of meat left behind). Now you can slice the breast meat against the grain into ¼ to ½ inch pieces.
  • Flip the turkey over, breast side down, and position it so that the leg-end is facing you. Pull the wings away from the body to expose the joint. Cut through the joint and socket just like you did with the leg.
  • Starting just below where the wing was, slice toward you, separating the thigh from the body. You will have a large piece, about half the size of the breast, with one bone running through the center. Place the thigh skin-side-down on your cutting board. Using the tip of your knife, cut parallel to the bone, separating it from the meat. You should be able to gently tear the bone out with your fingers without losing any meat. Flip it over so that it is skin-side up and cut against the grain (perpendicular to where the bone was) into ¼ to ½ inch slices.

You now have a fairly clean carcass. The remaining meat can be removed by hand, picking the good stuff out from in between the bones and hard to reach places. This makes great leftovers! To get all the goodness out of your turkey, use the carcass to make some delicious turkey stock.

Turkey carving doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

It seems we all have a turkey carving horror story – follow these steps and this year it won’t be about you!

Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to receive updates of new posts. Next week Chef J will be sharing some ideas for all that leftover turkey!

Thanksgiving Turkey – Tips for a Delicious and Juicy Turkey

Thanksgiving Turkey – Tips for a Delicious and Juicy Turkey

Thanksgiving is almost here! Are you as excited as we are? This week, Chef J shares a delicious and easy recipe to get that Thanksgiving turkey on the table. Check back next week for Chef J’s tips on carving your bird.

Turkey is my favorite poultry (as well as one of my favorite things to call bad drivers while I’m on the road…) so I take Thanksgiving dinner very seriously. Cooking a turkey and then carving that turkey can be very intimidating, especially if you have friends and relatives coming over that you would like to impress! Fear not!

With a few simple tricks you will end up with a delicious Thanksgiving turkey that your guests will just gobble up.

They will be stuffing themselves with your perfect poultry (Thanksgiving is also a great holiday for terrible puns, you jive turkeys!).

The most common problem people face on their plates is a dry bird- this doesn’t have to happen to you! For a moist turkey the key is time: take as much of it as you need. If you follow these steps, by the time you are ready to carve your Thanksgiving turkey you will have nothing to worry about. Brining the bird the day before will help it retain moisture, a little butter under the skin will add flavor and richness, and (most importantly) letting it rest before carving your turkey will keep all of the juices where they should be.

Brined Thanksgiving Turkey

As far as flavor goes, you can use whatever herbs and spices you like, but here is my favorite recipe:

juicy-turkey

Brine:

  • 1 gallon of water
  • 4 cups kosher salt
  • 2 cups honey
  • ¼ cup peppercorns
  • 1 small bunch fresh rosemary
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 small bunch fresh sage
  • 1 TBS whole cloves
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 gallon cold water
  • Ice

Bring the first gallon of water to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients (except the cold water and ice!), lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for a few minutes until everything has dissolved.
Combine the hot brine with the cold water in a separate container; add ice until the mixture is cold.
Place your turkey into a container large enough to hold it and the brine, but small enough to fit in your refrigerator, positioned so that the drumsticks and cavity opening are facing upward.
Pour the brine over and into the bird, cover tightly, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
When your bird has been sufficiently brined, remove it from the liquid. Give it a quick rinse and pat it completely dry. Let it sit at room temperature while preparing the rub and heating your oven.

turkey sq 1

Rub:

  • 4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 TBS orange zest
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients.Gently rub the mixture evenly under the skin of the entire turkey.Heat your oven to 325.
Place the bird on a rack in a large roasting pan. Cover completely and tightly with heavy duty foil, tent it so that it is not touching the turkey.
If you have a thermometer that can stay in the turkey while in the oven this is the time to use it! Roast until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 in the thigh. You can estimate about 10 minutes of cooking time per pound, but this is really just a guess. The only accurate way to cook poultry is by temperature.
Pull it out of the oven and turn the heat up to 375. When your oven is ready remove the foil from the turkey (but save it for later!) and place the bird back in until an internal temperature of 170 is reached and the skin has browned up a bit.
If you like your turkey really brown you can help it out by brushing it with a bit of honey and finishing it with your oven on the convection setting.
Remove from the heat, cover with foil and let it sit for 30-60 minutes before carving.

Check back next week for the basics on carving your Thanksgiving turkey.

Printer friendly recipe: Brined Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie: An Updated Classic

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie: An Updated Classic

Chef J has been making this delicious pecan pie for the family for almost a decade. It is his number one most requested holiday dish, and for good reason! Pecan pie is a classic staple on any Thanksgiving table, but this one will have your guests thinking, “well, maybe just one more slice!” You should probably make two, just to be safe. Take it away, Chef J!

The leaves are falling, the weather is cooling down, and the relatives will soon be arriving. With a house full of family, friends and lots of food it’s easy to get into the holiday spirit. And if the in-laws are visiting it might be time to get into the holiday spirits… So here is a recipe that gives you a good excuse to open a bottle of bourbon. It’s a proven fact that pecan pie is the best pie ever, but like I always say: chocolate makes it better! The bourbon lends a nice, rich, caramel flavor to the filling (don’t worry, the alcohol will cook out), and adding booze instead of water will give your pecan pie a flakier crust since it evaporates much faster.

Your family will rave about this Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie and ask you to make to make it every year!

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Piepecan-pie-dough

Dough:

  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 oz butter, cubed & cold
  • 2 oz shortening, cold
  • 2 oz cold bourbon

Preheat your oven to 350.
In a food processor combine dry ingredients.
Add butter and shortening, pulse for about 10 seconds.
Slowly add the bourbon while mixing until everything pulls together into a ball.
Roll out the dough and press evenly into a pie dish. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Perforate the dough and bake for 15 minutes.

Filling:pecan-pie-filling

  • 8 oz dark chocolate
  • ¾ cup honey
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 oz vanilla
  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1 tsp corn starch

Combine all ingredients in a double boiler over low heat and cook until the chocolate has melted.
Pour filling over the pre-baked dough.
Bake until set, about 30 minutes. Give it a gentle shake after about 25 minutes; you don’t want too much jiggle!
Remove and let it cool completely before cutting. Top with more nuts and chocolate, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream!

Printer friendly recipe: Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie Recipe

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Cutting Boards: A Collection to Handle Any Occasion

Cutting Boards: A Collection to Handle Any Occasion

Okay, let’s talk cutting boards! Having a good collection of cutting boards is something I think is essential. There is a reason there are so many different styles available – each type accomplishes a different goal. Depending on your level/style of cooking and entertaining, here is a list of some of the most commonly used and needed cutting boards.

End-grain-round-cutting-board

The All-purpose Chopping Block:  A nice, hefty, End Grain countertop block is super handy,since it is ready when you need it, and will look beautiful in your kitchen.  Not only are these blocks incredibly durable, the End Grain style is easier on your knives than other cutting surfaces, so it just makes sense to do the bulk of your chopping on one. End Grain blocks are available in a variety of sizes/woods/prices, one of which is sure to fit into your kitchen. They are also incredibly beautiful, and make a great serving surface on a buffet.NSF-Approved-Cutting-Board

The Lightweight Reversible Board: Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to use your big chopping block, and you need a board you can pull out easily and that won’t take up much storage space.  Enter the reversible cutting board: a lightweight edge grain board that can be used on both sides, and easily cleaned and stowed away for next time. This is the board you are going to pull out when you just need to slice up an apple or chop some parsley or other highly pigmented food. The big chopping block is unnecessary for such a small job, and the cleanup on a smaller board is much simpler. While you don’t want to leave this board soaking, you do have the option to scrub it down well after you make all those nice green stains. Also, since this one isn’t going to be out on the counter all the time, who really cares if it has a green spot?Carving-board

The Carving Board: Carving boards come in a variety of sizes and styles, and the one you choose will depend on how you intend to use it and where you intend to keep it. If you are like me and only use a carving board twice a year, you can get away with a thin, relatively inexpensive, standard board with a juice groove, like this one. If you are a die-hard BBQ-er, you will benefit from a bit more heft in a board that can take a bit of a beating and is easily transported, like this board with handles and a juice groove. Now, if you’re really serious about this roasting and carving stuff, this cutting board with carving spikes and a groove tree is pretty much a no-brainer. The spikes hold the meat in place while you carve away, and the groove tree directs juices into a reservoir so you can easily whip up some gravy or au jus.  If you want something that is both functional and stunningly beautiful, check out these End Grain boards with stainless steel feet; they are sure to wow at your dinner table.server-boards

Serving Boards and Blocks: There are so many fun and unique serving boards available these days! From contemporary to whimsical, and everything in between, we’ve got you covered no matter the occasion! Whether you are hosting an elegant dinner party or a potluck lunch, wooden serving boards will bring warmth and function to your table.

With the holidays quickly approaching, now is a great time to add some interesting cutting boards to your collection. They make great gifts, too!

The Mini-Boos Block and cheese hatchet set is a perfect housewarming or hostess gift and looks fantastic on any table.Mini-Boos-Butcher-Block

Pumpkin Carving Tips and Tricks

Pumpkin Carving Tips and Tricks

My family takes pumpkin carving pretty seriously – we’re not exactly creating masterpieces, but we do like to outdo each other! Over the years we have made some pretty awesome pumpkins. We’ve learned a lot and honed our skills, and I’d like to share some tips with you.

These pumpkin carving tips are for regular people who just want to make a neat pumpkin!

  • Inspect your pumpkin. You want a flat base, a strong stem, and no soft spots or gouges. Shake the pumpkin to make sure it doesn’t sound sloshy on the inside (trust me; you do not want to cut into that!). Make sure it has at least one nice surface for carving.
  • Practice on paper. Even with a fairly simple design, do a dry run on paper – draw it out (or print it) and cut out all the pieces that you would on the pumpkin. This creates a pumpkin carving stencil and ensures that you won’t end up with a surprise piece that has nothing to connect to.
  • Transfer your image. Tape your stencil onto the nicest surface. I use a toothpick to lightly score my stencil onto the pumpkin. With the stencil still taped on, go through and put an “X” in each area that will be cut out completely, and some lines in the areas that will just be scraped down.
  • Clean out your pumpkin. Cut the top off by cutting in at a 45-degree angle so that the stem will sit back in nicely and not fall into your pumpkin. Scrape out the guts with a large metal spoon. On the carving side, scrape out excess flesh – you’ll want less than one inch, but not so thin that the pumpkin will shrivel quickly or collapse.
  • Plump your pumpkin. Soak your cleaned out pumpkin in a bucket of cold water with a bit of bleach in it for about an hour. It will absorb the water and become more plump and firm, making pumpkin carving easier; and the bleach will help prevent molding.
  • Carve your design. Drill a hole in each area that will be removed. I like the tiny little saw that comes with the grocery store pumpkin carving kits, but the rest of the kit is pretty useless. I use a sturdy serrated knife in combination with garnishing tools, an exacto knife, and whatever else I can find in my kitchen and toolbox. Check out craft stores for pottery and linoleum tools for unique designs. Side note – dental tools work great for pumpkin carving if you have access to them, and there is something just very *Halloween* about torturing your pumpkin with these instruments!
  • Add details. I add depth by scraping some areas away rather than cutting all the way out, giving a nice mild glow through the flesh of the pumpkin. Make sure you leave plenty of connecting areas so it doesn’t collapse on itself.
  • Prep your pumpkin for use.  Coat the exposed edges with a thin layer of petroleum jelly or vegetable oil to prevent moisture from escaping the flesh (this is what causes shriveling). I jab a few whole cloves into the underside of the lid – it turns your jack-o-lantern into an air freshener when used with a real candle!
  • Keep your pumpkin fresh. Here in Phoenix, it stays pretty warm through October, and leaving a carved pumpkin out in the heat will lead to disappointment. I bring my pumpkins in during the day and put a plastic grocery bag around them to keep moisture in. If you have room in your fridge, keep wrapped pumpkins there when not in use. If your pumpkin starts to shrivel, soak it again in a mixture of bleach and very cold water until it plumps back up, then recoat with oil.
  • Light your pumpkin up. I like battery powered candles because they don’t burn out, but there’s just something about the smell of a jack-o-lantern with a real flame inside! If you use a real candle, be careful that you are not creating a fire hazard. Drill a couple holes in the back of your pumpkin near the top to allow oxygen flow.pumpkin-carving-phoenix

Happy Pumpkin Carving!

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What Exactly Is Butcher Block?

What Exactly Is Butcher Block?

Butcher Block is a specialized wood cutting surface, thick and rugged in design, built to sustain heavy blows from meat cleavers.  The name  “butcher’s block” was originally derived from its use by commercial meat cutters in butcher shops and meat processing plants over 125 years ago.  The first butcher blocks were made from Sycamore rounds, which were large sections of Sycamore tree trunks mounted on legs.  However, inherent in this round cut of wood was the problem of the wood splitting, creating unsanitary conditions.  This lead to the invention of the traditional end-grain butcher block, an assembled wood product made from strips of wood which are glued together to create a solid wedge.

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Today, traditional butcher blocks can be found in millions of supermarkets, delis, restaurants and home kitchens around the world.

End-Grain-Butcher-Block

These end-grain boards are made by bonding together short pieces of wood standing side-by-side, creating the traditional “checkerboard” appearance. Their cut ends make an excellent surface for cutting and chopping.  The wood fibers that make up the cutting surface are less susceptible to nicks and gouges, and will absorb the impact of knives.

 

Edge-Grain-Butcher-BlockThese days, the term butcher block is commonly used to refer to edge-grain constructed blocks as well.  Edge-grain blocks are made from laminating wood rails side-by-side, with the edges of wood strips making up the surface of the butcher block.  Many butcher blocks for home use are edge-grain construction because they are perfectly suitable for home use and are more affordable.

 

Edge-grain butcher blocks typically are thinner, lighter and more portable, making them ideal for versatile tableshard-working carts, gorgeous countertops, and  functional cutting boards.

What is your favorite butcher block product?

butcher-block-products