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.

Easy, Delicious Walnut Banana Bread

Easy, Delicious Walnut Banana Bread

It’s been a while since I blogged a recipe to our readers. Thankfully we have Claire and Sarah to do most of the food blogs for us, because they LOVE to cook.  I, however, really don’t love cooking or baking. I’m not sure why. Maybe because as a kid about 12 years old, it was my job to make dinner! We were given a day of the week, and it was our responsibility to plan and prepare the meal for the family. My divorced mom had 5 kids living at home at the time (seven kids total), so it was a very smart, strategic move on her part. While I was proud of what I learned to make…lasagna, meatloaf, spaghetti…I always felt like it was a chore. But luckily, I married a guy who is simply fabulous in the kitchen! He does nearly all of the cooking, AND he has taught me how to simplify recipes, and to enjoy the process as much as the end result. So once again, he has helped me come up with a recipe idea for our Butcher Block Co. Blog!

For our walnut-themed week, I’m making easy, delicious Walnut Banana Bread! It’s timed perfectly for you foodies out there, because Saturday is also National Banana Lovers Day!

So what makes this recipe easy?  Buy Trader Joe’s boxed Banana Bread Mix and a bag of Walnut halves.

What makes this recipe unique?  Roast the walnuts, use frozen bananas, add vanilla, orange and almond extract, and add chocolate chips (of course)!

For those of you who know what you’re doing in the kitchen, you can probably stop reading now and go make this walnut banana bread.  For the rest of you, there are a few helpful tips and adjustments to the recipe that are required to pull this off successfully, so read on…

Ingredients

walnut banana bread ingredients

  • Trader Joe’s Banana Bread Mix
  • Walnut Halves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Chocolate chips
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • * 1/4 cup water (not the 3/4 cup noted on the box)
  • *1/4 tsp orange extract
  • *1/4 tsp almond extract
  • *1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 * frozen bananas (in the peel works best)
  • * = adjustments to the recipe

Directions

walnuts Slightly roast the walnut halves in a dry fry pan on medium to high heat.  Walnuts are done when they just begin to darken slightly AND you get a waft of nutty, earthy smell off of them.  This should take no more than 10 minutes.  Do not let them burn.  Roasting will take the bitterness out of the walnut. Then chop them to the desired size. I used my handy John Boos Herb Board and Mezzaluna Knife for this. Yah!

Follow the directions on the banana bread box.  Whisk wet ingredients together then add the dry mix to the wet and blend with a spoon until just mixed.

Now for the frozen bananas.  Living in Arizona, I find that bananas turn really fast, so we have a freezer full of brown bananas at all times.  Just toss them in the freezer, peels and all, and they are always on hand for baking and making shakes! So now, grab your frozen bananas and defrost them in the microwave just until soft.  Squeeze the banana out of the peel into a bowl and mash them slightly with a fork.  Add them to the mixture. mix walnut banana bread

Add chocolate chips and your chopped, roasted walnuts and fold together. Pour into lightly greased bread pan and bake at 350 degrees for *50 minutes (instead of the recommended 40 minutes).

Cool.  Slice.  Eat.  Repeat.

Easy, Delicious Walnut Banana Bread

Final walnut banana bread

Printer-friendly recipe:Easy, Delicious Walnut Banana Bread

 

Pick Your Favorite Dessert Recipes From Our Dessert Cart!

Pick Your Favorite Dessert Recipes From Our Dessert Cart!

We have featured many amazing dessert recipes over the years, so in honor of Dessert Week at Butcher Block Co., we’re compiling some of our favorites in this Dessert Cart! From super simple to fancy, campfire-friendly to refreshingly cool, we’ve got you covered.

So gather ’round our dessert cart, sample whatever looks tasty, and leave with a few new favorite dessert recipes to try at home!

First up is from one of our most popular posts, which is understandable because it is AMAZING (I even made it myself last Father’s Day, and it turned out perfectly!). Claire’s Key Lime Pie is the stuff dreams are made of..just look at this!

Key Lime Pie

If you’re looking for something a little less labor intensive, this Icebox Cake is one of the easiest dessert recipes you can put together, and it turns out stunningly beautiful. No one will suspect the simplicity of this recipe!

Dessert Recipes

Speaking of easy, how about an ice cream recipe with only two base ingredients that doesn’t require an ice cream maker?! Alicia’s Easy Homemade Ice Cream fits the bill and will quickly become a summer staple in your family.

Homemade Ice Cream

Did that ice cream pique your interest? Looking for something a little more challenging? There is nothing that will cool you down in the summer better than mint ice cream. Claire’s Homemade Mint Ice Cream might take a little more skill in the kitchen, but it is well worth the extra effort. Refreshing mint and a buttery texture will make this one of your new favorite dessert recipes!

Mint Ice Cream Now, if you want to get out of the kitchen this summer, Sarah comes to the rescue with delicious and fun Campfire Pies! Your filling options are endless, so everyone in the family can customize their dessert to their own tastes.

Dessert recipes

What are your favorite dessert recipes? Are you inspired to try something new this summer?

Valentine’s Day Treat – Salted Caramel Peanut Stacks

Valentine’s Day Treat – Salted Caramel Peanut Stacks

Ah, love! Valentine’s Day is creeping up on us, and is the perfect time to celebrate your love, whether it be romantic, parental, dog-focused, whatever! The point is to let your loved ones know they are loved, and Sarah is back with more treats to help you drive home the message (but not to your dogs this time). These bars are easy to make and would be a perfect project with the kids, but your significant other will love them, too! Teach us how to love, Sarah!

Valentine’s Day, Galentine’s Day. Of all the mushy Hallmark holidays, this is the big one. And if you want your beloved someone to know just how gooey sweet your feelings are, do I have a recipe for you! Better yet, it involves very little actual cooking or baking. After making this recipe a few times, it’s easy to eyeball the amounts you need.

Sweet and salty recipes are a great boon to the baking world. With the saltiness to cut through, the sweet element can be even sweeter, and these cookies have a great crunch to go with the ultra smooth chocolate topping. This recipe (adapted from here) does require a food processor if you want a smooth caramel, and pulsing the peanuts and peanut butter cups a few times is going to help these bar cookies hold together better.

These Salted Caramel Peanut Stack Bars are an ideal treat this Valentine’s Day! Share the love!

Salted Caramel Peanut Stack Bars

  • Club crackers
  • ¾ cup butter
  • ¾ cup honey
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup whipped topping
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (16-20 graham crackers)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 cups chocolate peanut butter cups
  • 1 cup dry roasted peanuts
  • 1 ½ cups chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1/3 cup Nutella

Start by lining a 13×9 baking pan with foil. This will keep everything from sticking and help hold your bars together while they set. Arrange a single layer of crackers flat on the bottom.

Combine butter, honey, brown sugar, and whipped topping in a saucepan, bringing to a boil. Keep an eye on it and stir often. While this is going on, pulse your graham crackers into a fine dust. Set aside and put your peanuts in the food processor for a few seconds – you want smallish pieces, but not a fine dust. Set those aside and run your peanut butter cups through the food processor for a few seconds.

Once your caramel has started to boil, stir constantly and add your graham cracker crumbs. Let this simmer for about 5 minutes, then add the vanilla and sea salt.

Make sure you are completely ready with the peanut butter cups and peanuts at this point, because the next parts happen fast. Pour half the mixture over your crackers, doing your best to spread evenly (this part is tricky). Before the caramel starts to cool, spread the chopped peanuts in a thin layer, then the peanut butter cups.

Pour the second half of the caramel mixture on top of the peanut butter cups. This is trickier to spread evenly, since your peanuts and peanut butter cups aren’t solidly set or attached to anything. It doesn’t need to be perfect! Press a second layer of crackers on top.

Melt the chocolate and butterscotch chips in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time, until melted. Stir in the Nutella. Spread this in a thick, even layer on top.

Pop your bars in the fridge for at least 4 hours to set. Even after cutting, these are best kept in a cool place, or the refrigerator, until you’re ready to serve.

Valentine's Day

It’s hard to know how to classify these, exactly – half cookie, half fudge, completely a delightful, gooey, salty-sweet treat. The salty crackers, peanuts, and caramel easily stand up to the richness of the chocolate butterscotch hazelnut topping and peanut butter cup layer for a surprisingly well-balanced bite. They’re easiest eaten in small 1-inch squares, not cut into brownie-sized bars. Cutting these is tricky, but a very large, very sharp knife seems to be the best way to do it. If your bars are falling apart, press the pieces together as best you can. These are great as gifts in a little tin, or wrapped up in cello paper with a pretty ribbon and tag. Every time I’ve made these, some want to fall apart, but I’ve never brought home leftovers from an event!

Valentine's Day

What are your slam dunk cookie recipes to give as gifts? Are you aboard the salty-sweet dessert train? Happy Valentine’s Day!

New Year’s Party Dishes To Keep You Upright ‘Til Midnight

New Year’s Party Dishes To Keep You Upright ‘Til Midnight

New Year’s Eve is the day on which a lot of us let loose a collective sigh of relief. The holidays are coming to a close and it’s time to party away all the stress that has built up. Do yourself a favor and follow in Claire’s footsteps on this one: make easy, prep-ahead, spectacular party food that will satisfy the crowd without causing you even the smallest amount of stress. We all know and trust Claire’s ability to feed people, but this menu is above and beyond the call of duty! She makes it all sound so easy, and assures me that it is. Claire, help us ring in the New Year!

I love holiday cocktail parties! I love dressing up, I love champagne, and I love finger foods. Christmas and Thanksgiving are great for dinner parties, but a New Year’s Eve party is like the cherry on top of the holiday party sundae. Everyone has been through the holiday wringer by then, and they’re all ready to just throw down.

If you find yourself hosting on New Year’s Eve, the best thing to do is stock up on the booze and put out lots of irresistible food to keep everyone grounded.

My parents and my sister and her family are all going to be here for Christmas, and they are staying on through New Year’s. I get along really well with my family, and we are all really close. Even still, I think it’s safe to expect one or two flare-ups over the course of their stay, and I predict that by the end of it, we’ll all be ready for a little break, so I’m throwing a party to lighten our spirits. I’ve decided that I am going to go easy-route on everything for this thing. I’ve skipped party invitations in favor of a Facebook event invite, and I have a menu planned out that I can do almost entirely ahead of time, so I won’t have to miss out on any actual partying. The name of the game here is to keep everyone… not sober, necessarily, but sober enough that they will still be upright by the time that ball drops. That is why our menu will consist of rich and flavorful meats, cheeses, and breads. The more carbs and lipids your friends and family ingest, the more cushion there is to absorb all that Champagne. So let’s get into it!

This year, I am serving toasted open-face prosciutto sandwiches, spiced lamb in puff pastry, and, of course, a cheese board. With the sandwiches, I think it’s better to keep it simple. You want people to feel comfortable walking around with these, so keep the ingredient list down, and the quality high. Just a thin smear of whole grain mustard, some Gruyère, and a slice of prosciutto on some very good bread is all it takes to have your guests coming back for more.

New Year

The lamb puffs are a recipe of my own invention, and hot damn, am I ever proud of this one.

Lamb Puffs

  • One pound ground lamb
  • One sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • Three tablespoons panko
  • Three tablespoons milk
  • One shallot, diced small
  • One egg, beaten
  • Fresh ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric
  • White pepper
  • Ground coriander seed
  • One teaspoon kosher salt

In a small bowl, combine your panko breadcrumbs and milk. In a medium bowl, combine lamb with the shallot, a couple of shakes each of your dried spices, salt, and the milk mixture. As with many of my own recipes, I didn’t pay very close attention to how much of each spice went into the bowl, but I’d say approximately 1/8 tsp each. Then grate about an inch of peeled ginger into the bowl, and mix it all together until just combined. You can use a fork, but I think you get a better mix if you just go in with your hands.

Roll the puff pastry out on a lightly floured surface until it is about 10 inches across and 14 inches long, and then cut it length-wise into three evenly-sized strips. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the pastry out on the sheet. Portion your meat mixture into thirds, and spread each one out in about an inch-wide stripe down the middle of each piece of pastry. Fold the sides over the meat and use the beaten egg to help seal it. With the pastries seam-side down on the baking sheet, cut small diagonal slits at one inch intervals along the top of each one and brush the tops and sides with the egg. If you are going to serve them right away, set the pan in the freezer to chill for thirty minutes before baking. If you are making them ahead of time, tightly wrap the entire sheet in plastic wrap before freezing. They will keep for up to two weeks in the freezer, and there is no need to thaw them before baking.

New Years When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425°. Bake the chilled or frozen pastries until they start to puff up, about 15 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 350°. Continue baking until the meat is cooked through and the pastry is golden and completely puffed up, about another 25-35 minutes. Transfer them to a cutting board and let them cool slightly, and then use your cuts as a guide to slice the pastries into one-inch pieces. Eat the ends yourself, because you want to keep a uniform look on your serving platter, and anyway, let’s face it, you just deserve it.

New Years For dessert, I am going super simple with a classic icebox cake and Champagne Jell-O shots. The Jello-O shots are so easy to make, and the wow-effect to work ratio is definitely in your favor. I used this recipe but there are actually dozens of recipes out there, and I’m sure they all work just fine.

New Years I will say one thing about these, though; don’t scrimp on the Champagne. Since it’s basically just Champagne and gelatin, you absolutely need to use a Champagne (or prosecco or any sparkling wine) that you would enjoy drinking on its own.

New Years The real dessert star here is the icebox cake. If you’ve never made one, get ready for your new favorite cake to make. The ingredients are as follows: Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers and homemade whipped cream. That’s it. I like to kick mine up a notch, and I fold some booze into the cream. It really elevates this simple dessert to a new level, and it’s so easy.

Icebox Cake

  • One or two boxes of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
  • Two pints heavy whipping cream
  • Two tablespoons powdered sugar
  • One to two tablespoons vanilla or liqueur of your choice

In a large bowl, combine cream, sugar, and vanilla or liquor. I used Boulard Calvados, which is a really lovely apple brandy, but limoncello, Irish cream, Drambuie, or really any liqueur you prefer will work here. Whip the cream to stiff peaks. Carefully stack the wafers using layers of cream to bind them. I made mine in a ring shape for a round platter, but you can shape it any way you like, even including that ultimate holiday dessert classic, a yule log. When you’re done stacking and shaping, use the whipped cream to cover the outside of the cookie log.

New Year

There should be a little bit of leftover cream, which you should cover and reserve. Loosely cover your cake in plastic wrap and set in the fridge to chill for at least four hours, and up to 24. The wafer cookies absorb moisture from the cream and puff up, so when you are ready to serve, use the reserved cream to cover up any cracks in the cream or places where the chocolate has bled through. To get the layered effect, cut the cake at a deep angle so that the knife goes through several cookies. I like to serve my icebox cake with some kind of topping, like some Luxardo cherries or this incredible homemade cranberry ginger jelly.

New Year

Happy New Year, from my kitchen to yours! This holiday season, let’s remember that the real reason we get together is not to get lit and embarrass ourselves in front of everyone we know. Enjoy your drinks responsibly, and when your family is about to push you over the edge, try to focus on the love. If that fails, just remember that you can always shut them up with a big mouthful of cheese!

Printer-friendly recipes: New Year’s Party Dishes

Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Thanksgiving is just a week away! Are you ready? I’m always ready for my favorite holiday, and this last week of anticipation can be brutal. This year I’m trying to focus that energy into making some awesome side dishes to share with my family, and I know just the place to find the perfect recipes – our very own blog! I am thankful for our extremely talented guest bloggers who have shared so many amazing dishes over the past year. Everything I’m bringing to the table this Thanksgiving comes from one of our posts. I bet you can find some inspiration here, too!

Here is a collection of some of our most favorite recipes and tutorials for Thanksgiving. You’re sure to find something to be thankful for in this roundup of delightful dishes!

So, what are you bringing to the table this Thanksgiving? Did we inspire some great ideas? Let us know what you are thankful for this season and share with us your favorite Thanksgiving recipes.

All of us at Butcher Block Co. are thankful for you, our wonderfully supportive customers. Have a happy, relaxing Thanksgiving!

Halloween Wines Are Spooky Good!

Halloween Wines Are Spooky Good!

I feel like Halloween is really sneaking up on us this year. Can you believe we’re halfway through October already?! I haven’t given a single thought to decorating, costumes, or candy (yeah right…I love candy!). I’m not going to be prepared, but Sarah W. is here with something that will at least get me into the right frame of mind: Halloween wines! Themed booze just has a way of setting the mood! Sarah, spook us into the Halloween spirit!

Greetings from the crypt. It’s getting close to Halloween, which means candy, costumes, and limited edition wines, if you are anything like me. The perfect glass of wine helps me plan my costumes, resist that candy, and hopefully tastes good, too!

Halloween has been a lot of fun my whole life. Growing up, my family lived six houses down from the town square, so there were a lot of houses packed closely together, which made for excellent trick-or-treating. My mom used to go through 20+ bags of candy, turn her light out, wait for my brother and me to get home, and then make us go through our buckets for candy we didn’t want so she could keep handing treats out to kids at our doorstep. The first year in my house, I bought 15 bags of candy and hoped it would be enough – I thought Halloween was always the way it was growing up. I barely got through seven bags, and ended up bringing the rest in for my coworkers the following Monday. Lesson learned! Having some grown-up treats helps pass the time during the lulls. That’s where the wine comes in!

I rounded up three Halloween-themed wines and put them to the test.

Some were more trick than treat, but I’d say these three are a fairly well-rounded bunch, with something for every red wine drinker. I’ve found that Halloween wines tend to most often be available as a red, since that’s, you know, blood and guts and Haloween-ish. If you’re hosting the neighborhood parents, whip up a cheese board so you have something to snack on while you’re waiting for the kids to return with your candy (that’s how that works, right?).

Apothic Dark

Apothic has been coming out with limited editions Halloween Wine regularly now – this is a great thing. Apothic is great at blending wines – the original Apothic Red is the go-to wine for my closest friends and me when we get together for a wine night. It’s guaranteed at least half of us will bring the same bottle. Apothic Dark has a heavy, rich taste that is somehow more muted than the original. There’s a smoky undertone at the finish that is almost bitter. There’s a sweetness that is hard to pinpoint, but some kind of dark fruit flavor is involved. I was strongly reminded of a merlot when drinking this, which isn’t my favorite varietal. But it’s certainly smooth and drinkable, with any dryness coming at the end, almost after you swallow. This one won’t give you heartburn. You want to drink Dark with the middle and back of your palate – bringing this forward in your mouth makes it taste more acrid.

Rating: 3 spooky ghosts

Halloween Candy Pairing: 3 Musketeers Strawberry or Raspberry M&Ms – a fruit/chocolate combo balances this out

Rest in Peace

Halloween Wine This wine is a new one to me, and I was possibly most excited for it since red blends are my favorite. This is the most sour of the three, and although the tasting notes on the bottle mention boysenberry and raspberry jam, I didn’t find this very fruity or jammy. Maybe for a moment as this first hits your palate – there’s definitely a brightness to it that sharpens to a spice as you drink. Leather, cedar, tobacco, pepper, and black tea are also mentioned, and these are the flavors I can definitely taste. The taste of pepper and black tea is more noticeable to me in this wine; it lingers on the back of your palate. The consistency is thin, while the flavor is robust, somehow. I understand the notes on leather and cedar, even if they’re hard to explain. There are definite earthy notes, which is surprising for such an acidic wine. This one grows on you the more you drink it.

Rating: 2-1/2 black cats

Halloween Candy Pairing: Dark chocolate – a midnight Milky Way would mellow this one out

Vampire

This is a Cabernet Sauvignon, not a red blend, Halloween Wine a fact that I noticed when I got home. Vampire has a juiciness to it that is a) extremely appropriate given its name and b) very hard to describe in terms of drinking wine. Maybe it’s best to characterize the juiciness by the absence of smoke, bitterness, or sourness. Tasting notes on the bottle suggest blackberry, dark cherry, and oak. I am not hit over the head with the fruit level, but it’s tangibly there, while the oak doesn’t dry this up to an undrinkable level. This is a wine for storytelling and deep conversations. It’s mellow enough to drink a lot of without noticing how much you’re drinking, with dryness coming right as the wine hits the middle of your mouth. This is another one to taste with the middle and back of your palate. This also finishes with some slight bitterness, but not enough to be off-putting if you’re a regular red wine drinker.

Rating: 5 werewolves

Halloween Candy Pairing: Red Vines licorice

 

Is your house busy with trick-or-treaters on Halloween? What’s your favorite limited edition anything? Should they make more Halloween-themed white wines? I could only find one, and it didn’t look good to me, so I passed.

Back to School – On-the-Go Breakfast Cookies

Back to School – On-the-Go Breakfast Cookies

It’s Back to School season! That means hectic mornings for parents and kids as we all adjust to the new schedule. Thankfully, Sarah W. is here with the perfect on-the-go breakfast cookies. That’s right – BREAKFAST COOKIES! We’re not much for morning eating in my house, but I bet I could convince my kid to eat a cookie before school! I love that these are easily and endlessly customizable – add nuts, seeds, dried fruit, whatever!  So, Sarah, tell us how to make these back to school morning miracles!

Ah, September. Even though I don’t have children of my own, it’s hard to miss the displays in every retail outlet right now. New backpacks, new clothing, new shoes, and new time management schedules. After a summer with a more relaxed schedule, families with kids heading back to school must start to feel the pinch of getting everyone ready and out the door on time. Leisurely breakfasts are a thing of the past when the kids are headed back to school!

I think my favorite part of going back to school as a kid was getting new notebooks. I always preferred three-subject spiral-bounds with college-ruled pages that I could cram a million notes in. Something about fresh white pages, and knowing that I’d get to fill them with my own words was addicting about starting up the school year. At the end of the year, I always made cases to keep my old notebooks for a while – I didn’t really care about keeping old handouts or book covers, but my notebooks filled with my words, representing my thoughts and work… that was something special to see on the bookshelf in my room.

My least favorite thing about going back to school was definitely waking up early. I am a habitual night owl and would rather stay up late at night reading and making popcorn and watching movies than go to bed early in order to rise and shine or greet the new day, or whatever it is that holds appeal for you morning people. Eating early in the morning usually upset my stomach, so I’d end up skipping breakfast until my mom started forcing breakfast shakes and granola bars on me to eat en route to school.

With such a time crunch in the mornings, having something prepared ahead of time that can be eaten on the go in the car or on the bus can make all the difference in getting places on time. Managing the back to school rush by prepping breakfast for the whole week ahead of time can make a big difference.

That’s where these On-the-Go Breakfast Cookies come in – the perfect solution to you back to school chaos!

I like something sweet in the morning, and these cookies do the trick. Subbing applesauce for eggs, and using chickpeas as the base may sound like a weird hummus, but these taste like no-bake cookies. Adding chocolate chips makes them extra special. These do have a tendency to fall apart, so be extra careful when transferring them to your cooling rack. Any crumbles can be saved to sprinkle on yogurt, too, if that’s more your speed in the morning.

The hardest part of this recipe is getting the consistency right. First, you need to grind your chickpeas in a food processor. I’ve done this without a food processor, and it’s much harder since chickpeas have a translucent husk or outer layer that needs to be totally pulverized in order to give you a smooth consistency. Stand mixers and hand mixers just won’t do it. Be careful to pulse your food processor, as opposed to holding down the button for long spurts of time – I burned out a Ninja motor doing this, and now am more careful with my little red Cuisinart. I ended up using 4 cups of oats to make the batter hold together – you really just want a dough that will hold its shape on the cookie sheet. Oh, and applesauce! If you buy those little individual-sized containers, fear not on measuring – they’re each half a cup!

I modified this recipe from a great blog, Chocolate Covered Katie, by adding enough oats to beat this batter into submission, allowing it to be formed into balls to bake.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • 3 T oil
  • 1 ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • About 4 cups oats
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (hahaha, I used almost a whole bag – add these to taste)

-Preheat oven to 350°F.

-Rinse chickpeas thoroughly. Blend in the food processor until you have a hummus-like consistency. I found it helpful to add the oil and some of the applesauce to make this easier, and to switch back and forth between the Chop and Grind settings on my machine if things got stuck.

-Put your hummus in a large mixing bowl and add everything but the oats and chocolate chips. Mix well. You should have a sort of runny batter.

Back to School

-Add your oats about a cup at a time until your dough will form a ball.

-Add your chocolate chips. Then add a few more.

-Drop by rounded tablespoon (I use a melon baller) onto a greased cookie sheet or a sheet lined with a silicone baking mat. Use the back of your spoon to flatten slightly. Bake for 20 minutes.

Back to School

-As each batch of cookies comes out of the oven, very carefully transfer to a wire cooling rack. These will be ready to be handled when the next batch is out (about 20 minutes cooling time). Don’t try to move them before they’ve cooled (unless you want extra crumbles for yogurt). Store in an airtight container.

Back to School

These are great with a glass of milk, and since chickpeas have a decent amount of protein (7g per ½ cup), these make a great morning boost to get a jump start on your day – both for you and your back-to-schoolers. My husband has been sneaking them after dinner for a treat, too.

What’s the best part of going back to school? What shortcuts in your morning routine help get you out the door on time?

March Madness: Recipes & Tips to Make Your Party a Slam Dunk

March Madness: Recipes & Tips to Make Your Party a Slam Dunk

March Madness is upon us! I don’t understand the bracketology or even the enthusiasm, but I’m certainly not going to judge you if you’re into it…mostly because I’m a nice person, but some of it has to do with wanting you to share your game snacks with me. Thankfully, Sarah Buchanan is back and willing to share some tips and recipes to make your March Madness parties successful. I’m going to sit on the sidelines now and pass this to Sarah. (Get it? I crack myself up.)

It’s the time of the year when the madness strikes – March Madness. Fully grown adults will gather around TV sets, scream at refs and at athletes barely out of high school, and feverishly track wins and losses on brackets drawn on huge pieces of paper in the conference room at work.
Before I moved to California, I lived in North Carolina, where college basketball is its own special kind of religion. UNC, NC State, and Duke are the big three, and if you’re a North Carolina native, you probably have a favorite you’re passionate about. Or you could be like me, the fourth kind of NC basketball fan, the ones who may or may not have a preference between State and Duke, but are known as the ABC Fans: Anyone But Carolina.

March Madness games provide a great excuse to get your friends together for sports and food and…more food.

If you’re the host of one of these get-togethers, below are some tips (and recipes!) to make sure your March Madness party is a slam dunk. (Sorry.)

  1. Serve several snacks and appetizers rather than trying to plan and execute a full blown dinner if you’re having more than three people over. You don’t want to be running around, checking the casserole, stirring the beans, and making the salad while the game clock is counting down and everyone else is having fun. Choose some easy to make snacks, and if you really want to have a meal, order some pizzas to go with your snacks!
  2. Make sure that you have everything you need beforehand. Check your stock of drinks, napkins, plates, ice, snacks and ingredients, and cups. You don’t want to have to run out of your own March Madness party to pick up ice in the middle of the game.
  3. Consider making it a potluck. You provide the pizzas and plates and entertainment; your guests provide the apps and drinks. This is a much less stressful way to have a party, and most of the dishes will go home with their owners at the end of the night. Win-win! Just make sure you have your guests let you know what they’re bringing so you don’t end up with 15 cheese plates. (Although, I suppose there are worse things…)
  4. Have fun! Parties are no time to stress out. If you spill a drink on the rug or end up with dip on the armchair or inadvertently give your dog a mohawk in the colors of your favorite team, it’s okay. You’re having a get-together to enjoy your friends and the madness of March, so enjoy yourself, take pictures, and scream at the TV. Have a ball. (Again…sorry.)

Here are a couple of easy recipe ideas for your March Madness party. (Easy is important when you’re whipping up treats for several people!) Feel free to dye the dip the appropriate team color.

Fiesta Ranch Dip

  • 1 packet Hidden Valley Fiesta Ranch Dip (you can use less for a less intense flavor)
  • 1 10-oz. can original Rotel, drained
  • 16-24 oz. sour cream
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Tortilla chips and/or crunchy veggies like carrot or celery sticks

In a medium bowl, mix together sour cream, Rotel, and ranch packet (start with half and taste before adding more). Stir in cheese. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. Serve with chips and/or veggies.

March Madness

Nutella Grape Bites

  • One bunch of green grapes (use roughly 50)
  • One container Nutella
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (or almonds, or walnuts, or peanuts, or…)

Wash grapes and dry thoroughly. Dip one end of each grape in the Nutella, then gently roll the grape in the pecans. Spear each grape with a toothpick and serve.

March Madness

What’s your go-to dish for pleasing the crowd on game day?

Printer friendly recipes: March Madness Appetizers

Chocolate Covered Strawberries – How Romantic!

Chocolate Covered Strawberries –
How Romantic!

I have lots of experience with chocolate fondue, but I can honestly say I have never made chocolate covered strawberries. Not certain why, but I decided for Valentine’s Day to step it up and be a bit more romantic. And my hubby, who “owns” our kitchen, wanted to help me, so we made this decadent dessert together. How romantic!

I don’t have a passion for cooking like most of you do, but I do have a passion for arts and crafts. So I approached this as if it were a craft project. And I loved it! It all started with a visit to a cake store. If you are a baker you know what I am talking about, but for the novice cookie and cake maker that I am, I had no idea this store even existed. It was truly like walking into the “Michaels” or “Hobby Lobby” of baking. And the best part – everything is edible! Doesn’t get much better than that. I purchased my very important oil-based pink food coloring and my toppings of pink/white/red nonpareils, red coarse sugar, and tiny multicolored valentine hearts.  Let the chocolate covered strawberry project begin.

There is no creative twist to this chocolate covered strawberry recipe – you can find them all over the internet. But I can share some things I learned while making them. And of course, I will share my finished masterpieces.

I’m hoping to inspire you to be romantic this Valentine’s Day and make some chocolate covered strawberries!
Heck, be romantic any day!

chocolate covered strawberries 5

Ingredients

  • 1-12 oz. bag Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1-12 oz. bag Ghirardelli white chocolate chips
  • 2 T Coconut Oil
  • Oil-based food coloring. Pink for decorating.
  • 2 pounds strawberries
  • Toppings: Almost anything goes. I did colored coarse sugar, nonpareils, candied hearts, crushed candy canes, and some dried pink chocolate flakes.

Recipe and Tips
Wash strawberries first, so they are dry by the time you start.

  • Tip – Don’t wash entire strawberry. Just dip the berry in water, not the leaves. This way the leaves won’t dry up. It is all about presentation with this dessert!
  • Tip – Don’t rush this step. Strawberries must be completely dry before dipping.
  • Tip – Like any good craft project, have a plan and get organized ahead of time. Divide strawberries out into groups to be dipped in chocolate only, white chocolate only, and multi chocolate.  Set up areas for dipping, toppings, and drying.

Melt chocolate either in a small fondue pot or in a small dish in the microwave with a little bit of coconut oil. I did 20 seconds at a time, then stirred and reheat. Don’t overcook. Much easier than a double boiler.

  • Tip – the coconut oil helped prevent the chocolate from setting up, and it gave it a nice glossy sheen.
  • Tip – to make pink chocolate, it takes only a couple drops of food coloring in the white chocolate! I put the pink chocolate in a small squeeze bottle so I could drizzle on my decoration.

Hold the stem of the berry and dip in chocolate, covering the berry almost to the stem. Nice to have some red strawberry showing.

  • Tip – Let excess chocolate drip off for about 1 minute. Touch to side of bowl to get it to release.
  • Tip – If you want to double dip two different chocolates, make certain the first chocolate is dry before you dip in the second colored chocolate.

Dip in toppings. Gently roll the berry in topping or turn it and set it in topping 4 or more times.

  • Tip – I found that “dipping” in toppings did not really work. If the chocolate is too wet, it pushed the chocolate out of shape, or left some chocolate in the toppings.

Place strawberries on parchment paper for drying.
You can store them in the refrigerator for a few days, or eat them immediately. If you put them in refrigerator, let them warm up about 30 minutes prior to eating. The chocolate is less likely to crumble off.  I was so proud of my chocolate covered strawberry “craft project” I took lots of pictures to share with you.  Enjoy.

chocolate covered strawberries 1

chocolate covered strawberries 2

chocolate covered strawberries 3 I found my inspiration on Pinterest at The Yummy Life. Thanks for giving me the courage to try this.

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