Friday, December 7, 2012

Edible GIfts: Microwave Popcorn Packs

We've talked about this before, I really love microwave popcorn. My mom's Whirly Pop still makes the best popcorn, but this microwave popcorn comes a very close second. This microwave popcorn gives you crunchy, salty popcorn without a pot to clean. No clean up is always a plus, right?

My family loves movies and they're often a part of our Christmas gifts. These packs would be an perfect addition to a movie gift.

The flavor combinations are endless. Go spicy with a pinch of garlic powder and ground cayenne. Get sweet with a sprinkle of sugar for kettle-style popcorn. Make up a double batch and stash a few in your own cupboard or desk at work. Package a pile of these up to share with your neighbors and friends. These are easy on your time and your wallet, so you can always make these last minute.

Microwave Popcorn:
Makes 4 packs

1 cup popcorn kernels
1-2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 snack-sized zip bags
4 paper bags
card stock or recipe card for directions

Add popcorn kernels to a small bowl and stir oil in one teaspoon at a time, until kernels are just coated. Stir in salt. Divide kernels into the zip bags and tuck into paper bags.

Write directions on card stock or recipe card:

1. Empty contents of zip bag into paper bag
2. Fold edge of bag over twice and lay flat in microwave
3. Microwave on high 2-2 1/2 minutes until popping slows
4. Empty into a bowl and enjoy!

Wrap up your popcorn packs with cellophane or tissue paper and start sharing!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Edible Gifts: Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix and Peppermint Marshmallows

Need a quick gift idea in your back pocket this season?

You can put together a gift package of homemade hot cocoa mix and peppermint marshmallows before you know it.

Yes, I said homemade peppermint marshmallows. Don't let the marshmallows scare you.
These puffy soft clouds of sweet Christmas cheer are easier than you think. In about 30 minutes of active time, you will have pillowy marshmallow creme ready to set up over night.

The magic of chemistry make the process so fun. As you whip air into the gelatin and sugar mixture, it slowly transforms into marshmallow creme. If you have kids, grab them to help you cut them out with cookie cutters. To make them even easier, use a sharp knife to cut them into squares.

The hot cocoa mix can be done in a matter of minutes with the help of a blender or food processor. To package the hot cocoa mix, grab an empty baking powder or lemonade canister out of the recycle bin and cover with wrapping paper. Wrap the marshmallows in a square of parchment paper and tie with ribbon.

Hot Cocoa Mix:
Makes about 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups mix, enough to fill one baking powder canister

1 1/4 cup dry milk powder
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse a few times until well combined. Store in an airtight container.

Peppermint Marshmallows:
Makes 9-10 marshmallows using medium-sized cookie cutters

1 cup cold water, divided
2 packages unflavored gelatin (I used Knox)
1/3 cup honey
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 cup+ powdered sugar for dusting

Grease and dust a 9 x 13 pan with powdered sugar and set aside. Sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water in a bowl and set aside to soften. Use the bowl of your stand mixer if you have one.

In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, bring remaining water, honey and sugar to 240 degrees using a candy thermometer. Once the sugar mixture is boiling, this could take 5-10 minutes.

Prep your stand mixer or blender with the whisk attachment or the smallest beaters available. When the sugar mixture has reached 240 degrees, slowly pour into gelatin mixture with machine on low. Continue pouring and increase speed slowly to high.

Beat marshmallow creme until doubled in volume, about eight minutes. Add vanilla and peppermint extract and continue beating until thick, about two more minutes. Ribbons in the marshmallow creme should disappear in about two seconds.

Pour marshmallow creme into prepared pan and dust top with more powdered sugar. Allow to set up for at least four hours or overnight. Turn marshmallow out onto a cutting board and cut into squares with a sharp knife or cookie cutters. Toss with powdered sugar to cover cut edges. Store in an airtight container for two to three weeks.

Put together a batch today and spread some Christmas joy with those cherished people around you. Don't forget to cut up those marshmallow scraps for your self, they all melt just the same.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Lasagna

I am so excited for Thanksgiving this year.

This year we'll be blessed to have three Thanksgiving dinners. That means more turkey and gravy. More pan gravy with my granny's secret weapon: sake. Seriously, try it friends. Thanksgiving with my family is always full of pieces of her. She didn't just pass on recipes, but technique, style, and attitude. Thanksgiving seems to pull it all together into a giant food memory. 

As I slid this lasagna into the oven, I knew she would have loved it. I know you will, too.

This lasagna is an excellent way to change it up before, during or after Thanksgiving. Most of the ingredients are already in your kitchen as you prepare for the holiday. Its full of fall flavor with turkey, pumpkin and sage, then topped with mozzarella and fried sage leaves. Use leftover turkey instead of ground turkey for a great twist on leftovers. 

Make, bake and share this lasagna and have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Lasagna
Serves 8

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
20 oz. ground turkey
8 leaves fresh sage
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 (15 ounce) cans pumpkin puree
3/4 cup chicken stock
20 ounces ricotta
8 ounces mozzarella, cut into 1 ounce slices
1 package oven-ready lasagna noodles

Grease a 9 x 13 pan and set aside. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pan, brown turkey over medium heat with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Remove turkey from pan, drain and set aside. Add remaining olive oil and pan-fry fresh sage leaves. When the sage leaves are crispy, drain on a paper towel and set aside. 

Add onion and salt to pan, scraping to remove all the crispy bits from the bottom. Cook until onions are fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add dried sage and continue cooking another two to three minutes. Remove from heat and add turkey to onion mixture. 

In a medium bowl, stir together pumpkin and chicken stock.

In the pan, make three layers of the pumpkin, noodles, turkey mixture and ricotta. Top with another layer of noodles and pumpkin. Arrange mozzarella slices and fried sage on top.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking another 15 minutes or until mozzarella begins to brown and lasagna is bubbly. Allow to rest 5-10 minutes before serving.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Lighter Honey and Brown Butter No Bake Cookies

The biggest lesson from the last month: brown butter makes everything better.

Absolutely everything.

Jessica over at How Sweet Eats feels the same way. Not only is Jessica full of wit, but she shares fantastic recipes and photos. If you've never browned butter before, jump over to her post here to see how its done.

A lot less sugar and a little more honey come together to lighten up one of my favorite fast treats. These can become lunch box staples. Just whip up a batch and divvy them up in little snack bags. They'll be ready for you in a pinch. 

Remember, these are still cookies, but a sweet treat you don't have to feel bad about. 

A quick and easy treat to combat the pies you might be making in the next week. Or maybe in addition to those pies. 

Lighter Honey and Brown Butter No Bake Cookies: 
Makes 12-14 medium-sized cookies

1/4 cup butter, browned and slightly cooled
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
2 tablespoons flax seeds, ground

Line a baking sheet with wax paper and set aside.

In a small sauce pan, brown the butter. Set aside to cool. 

In another small sauce pan, add brown sugar, honey, milk, and cocoa. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for another minute. Remove from heat and stir in browned butter and peanut butter, stirring to melt the peanut butter. Stir in vanilla. 

Pour cocoa mixture over oats and flax seed, stirring to combine. Drop by the spoonful onto lined baking sheet. Allow to cool and set up on the counter for 2 hours or in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Store in an air tight container.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Coffee Creamer Three Ways

Its been too long friends, way too long. A crazy project knitting away at a gazillion hats for my drumline students between rehearsals has swallowed up so much of my time. Now that I'm able to tread water in this sea of purple yarn, I am back with a few classic fall recipes.

You'd like to see these kids, right?
Look, kids wearing purple hats!
New uniforms and a new positive attitude to boot.

So what's that I said about classic fall recipes? We all know fall is here when pumpkin spice is everywhere, especially in our coffee. As I was staring at the tiny ingredient list for my favorite coffee creamer, I couldn't help but wonder just what on earth I was doing buying this at the store. With just four ingredients, surely I could make this go-juice at home.

The best part of the recipes is that with so few ingredients, its a snap to adjust for your own preferences. You just might have to go dig in the recycle bin for a few old bottles to store all this creamer.I may *or may not* have nearly fallen into the recycle bin mining empty creamer bottles.

Sweet Vanilla Creamer:
1 cup 1% milk
3/4 cup half and half
1/3 cup sugar
1-2 teaspoons vanilla

Whisk all ingredients together and taste. Adjust sugar and vanilla to your preferences. Store in a container with a tight lid in the refrigerator and shake well before using.

Ok, ok. So vanilla doesn't exactly say fall quite like pumpkin. I couldn't just send you on your merry little way with only one creamer recipe. It just wouldn't be right.

Pumpkin Spice Creamer:
1 cup 1% milk
3/4 cup half and half
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1-2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

Whisk and taste some more. For a little extra sweetness or depth of flavor, add a touch of maple syrup or molasses. Remember the pumpkin and spices will settle, so be sure to shake well. Want to take a crack at your own pumpkin spice blend? Check out the oh-so-sweet Joy the Baker's recipe here.
Tuxie sat on my lap until the camera came out.

What was that about maple syrup?

A little maple syrup in the cream cheese frosting on sticky buns is one of my favorites. Let's run with that, too.

Sticky Bun Creamer:
1 1/4 cup almond milk
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup 100% real maple syrup
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1-1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Whisk and taste one more time. Dream up your own flavors, use real ingredients. Grab some Hershey's chocolate and peppermint extract. Go crazy!
Soak up the weather, cozy up to a fire and share a bit of delicious coffee with your friends. Whatever you do, find a cat to ignore you.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thai-style Salsa

Hey friends!
We're back!

Let's get this show back on the road with a fun new recipe. Thai-style Salsa! If you're anything like me, you're impatiently waiting for jacket weather, mountains of chili and football. This salsa is a great Sunday afternoon snack for cheering on your favorite team or to share with your friends.

Thai-style Salsa:
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, salted and drained
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 handful Thai basil
2 shallots, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 - 2 inches freshly grated ginger
5-6 Thai chiles, diced
juice of half a lime
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

To salt and drain the tomatoes, place tomatoes in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and add a heavy pinch of salt. Allow to drain for about 15-20 minutes. Use the tomato water for something like this.

Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend to combine. Add more chiles or
salt to taste.

Serve with your favorite corn chips and enjoy!

Friday, June 29, 2012

How to Make Incredibly Juicy Grilled Burgers

The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. Our flag flying in the breeze, the smell of hard working grills permeating the neighborhood, sun tea brewing on the porch. The crackles and booms of fireworks beginning at dusk.

I have to watch Independence Day on the 4th. Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, explosions, Aliens, fighter jets and patriotism. Can you go wrong?! The rest of the week, yes week, is spent with Spike's Force of July marathon. More explosions and James Earl Jones. A week well spent when the temps are dancing above 100, right?

Let's get to the grill!

The hubs and I have spent a good portion of the summer experimenting on how to make juicy, flavorful burgers. My burger-loving hubby certainly didn't object. When the hubs took one bite of these patties and said "these are the best ever", I knew I had something I would love sharing with you.

First off, let's start with spice blend. This burger spice can be used on anything you want to toss on your grill, but is particularly excellent in these burgers.

Burger Spice:
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all spices together. Store in an airtight container or spice shaker.

Now let's talk about beef. Ground beef. As much as we would all like to grab that 93% fat free pack, it just doesn't lend itself to a juicy burger. Aim for 80-85% fat free beef. Remember, some of that fat is going to stay with the grill. If you play some ultimate frisbee while your burgers cook, you can enjoy them guilt-free. Play hard, eat well!

If your local grocery store's beef just isn't cuttin' it for you, check out your local butchers and farmers' markets.

Juicy Burgers:
Makes 4 each 1/4 pound patties, double or triple as needed

1 pound 80-85% ground beef
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons burger spice

Line a baking dish with wax paper. Place beef in a bowl and sprinkle with soy sauce and burger spice.
Using your hands, lightly massage spices into the beef and divide into 4 equal portions.
Gently form each portion into a patty, about 1/2 inch thick. Try to handle the beef as little as possible. Using three fingers, make a large dimple in the center of the patty. This will keep the patties from swelling up into little balls on the grill. 
Layer the patties in the baking dish, using more wax paper for more patties. Allow the patties to rest for a few minutes while you fire up that grill to medium-hot. Grab a lid for your baking dish and head out to the grill. 

When the grill is hot, scrape the grates clean and lightly brush with vegetable or grapeseed oil. Lay the patties on the grill. I like to use an extra square of wax paper to transfer the burgers from dish to grill, then toss it all. It keeps me from running into the house to wash the dish.
Do not touch them for at least 4 minutes. Let them make friends with the grill, allow them to develop grill lines and seal in all that juice. 

Then flip!
Allow them to finish up for about 2-4 more minutes, depending on how you prefer your burgers to be cooked. Around 2 minutes for medium, 4 minutes for well-done. These times will fluctuate depending on the temp of you grill. 

Whatever you do, do not press on your burgers. More juice is more flavor. 

Pull the burgers off the grill and place back into the baking dish and cover. Allow the burgers to rest for at least 10 minutes. While the burgers rest, prepare your fixins. 

My favorite burger this summer has been BBQ-pepper jack. Just a little swirl of BBQ sauce on a slice of pepper jack is all I need.
Dig in and enjoy!

How do you like to celebrate the 4th?

Other recipes and ideas you might enjoy:
Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs from A Cozy Kitchen

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mint Cookies & Cream Frozen Yogurt

Mint chocolate chip is good.
Cookies and cream is better. 

Mint Cookies and Cream is best. 

My favorite all-time ice cream flavor! It can be hard to find in the store. Edy's has it, but its rare that I want to pay the price in dollars or calories. 

We definitely love our froyo around here and its so easy. With just a few ingredients, you can have a sweet, refreshing treat in your bowl in about an hour. Use yogurt with a little fat content for a creamier texture.

Mint Cookies and Cream Frozen Yogurt:

3 cups 2% yogurt, Greek is best
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon mint extract
2-3 drops green food coloring (optional)
15 chocolate sandwich cookies

Mix yogurt, sugar, vanilla and mint and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Toss the cookies in a zip bag and lightly smash. 

Put yogurt mixture into your ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer's directions. In the last minute of churning, add the cookies. 

If you can't wait, enjoy your froyo immediately. Otherwise, transfer the ice cream to a freezer container and allow to set up in the freezer. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Spicy Grilled Black Beans

Love meals all cooked on the grill. 
It saves me a thousand trips in and out the back door. 
Checking the stove or oven. Taking a dish out to the hubby. 

Wondering if one of the cats snuck out before the door shut. 

Another easy side you can throw on the grill while your burgers, dogs, steaks, kebabs or whole chicken do their thing. 

Spicy Grilled Black Beans
Serves 4

2 tablespoons Frank's Red Hot Sauce (or more to taste)
1-2 teaspoons honey
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 cups black beans, cooked, rinsed, and drained

Whisk together the Barbecue, Frank's and honey. Stir in onion and beans. Spread in a foil pan and cover with foil.
Place on a medium-hot grill and cook for 15-30 minutes, as long as your meat of choice requires. Allow beans to rest along with meat. Serve hot and enjoy!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fast Ideas for Memorial Day Weekend: The Best Grilled Corn Ever and Reese's S'mores

Today, I have some fast ideas for your Memorial Day weekend to get you outside, grilling, and kickin' summer off right. No recipes today, just a couple of great ideas to add to your fun.

The hubby and I love to grill meals where everything goes on the grill, not just the meat. Grilling corn is so easy and you won't even have to shuck the corn. That's right, no shucking, peeling or fighting the silk. 
Say what?
Toss your corn right on the grill, husks and all. Roll them around for about 10-15 minutes. The husks hold in all the moisture and steam those little golden kernels to perfection. 
Some of the outer layers of the husk will fly off into the coals. Give the ears a little squeeze with your tongs, they are done when they have just begun to soften. 

Allow them to rest for a few minutes before peeling off the husks and silk. Use a clean oven mitt if they are still a bit too toasty to handle.
Salt and butter to taste. Enjoy!

Now let's talk s'mores. Remember The Sandlot

"Hey Smalls, you want a s'more?"
"Some more of what?"
"No, do you wanna s'more?"
"I haven't had anything yet, so how can I have some more of nothing?"

If you have even just a little extra time this weekend, I highly recommend you make these Whole Wheat Graham Crackers from Caroline over at Chocolate and Carrots. Caroline has so many gooood things over there, but I think these grahams are my favorite. 

They are truly easy and so very tasty, adding a little something special to your s'more. And they taste just like grahams from the store!

But didn't I say something about a Reese's? 

I truly cannot remember where or who this idea came from, so I cannot give full credit where it is due. Can't claim it for myself either, darn! This is such a genius idea!

Trade your Hershey's chocolate for a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. The chocolate in a Reese's is softer and melts better, adding to the gooey goodness that we love. 
And peanut butter in my s'more? Can't go wrong with the PB!

Get out there, thank a veteran and get grilling. 
Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spinach Pesto Pasta

Summer weather mean summer food. Less time spent inside in a hot kitchen and more time outside with grass between your toes. 
Pesto is one of my favorite foods. Its fast, full of flavor and versatile. Perfect for summer meals.
Spinach is perfect for pesto, tender and fresh! Serve the pesto with your favorite pasta and top with grilled chicken or shrimp for a complete meal. 

Spinach Pesto Pasta:
Serves 2 as an entree, 4 as a side; Makes about 1 cup of pesto

4 ounces whole wheat pasta
1/3 cup grated parmesan
2 cloves freshly minced garlic
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups fresh spinach (about 2 large handfuls)

Cook pasta according to directions. 

In a blender or food processor, add garlic, lemon juice, half of the olive oil, and salt. Give the mixture a few pulses. Add spinach and continue pulsing, using a spatula to work the spinach down into the blades. Slowly, drizzle in the remaining olive oil. 
When pasta is ready, drain and toss with pesto. 
Grab a bowl and enjoy this pesto on your porch or deck!

If you're lucky, a furry friend might decide you need some help.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Yogurt Coffee Cake

Mother's day is in just two days! Do you have everything ready for the mother in your life?

Sometimes the best thing to share with mom is a memory. My sister and I share one of our favorite memories with mom last Saturday at breakfast. When we were in grade school, mom always packed our lunches. She always wrote love notes on our napkins and tucked them into our lunch boxes. We loved opening our lunches to a love note!

Love notes can come in coffee cake form, too. No worries if you're planning some last minute things for mom. This Yogurt Coffee Cake will please mom with minimal time in the kitchen. Mother's Day is really about spending time and appreciating mom, right? Show mom some love with a quick and healthy coffee cake.

I really just said that.
Healthy coffee cake. Packed with whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and yogurt, this coffee cake gives you a guilt-free memory to share with mom.

Yogurt Coffee Cake:
Serves 9-10

1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup quick cooking oatmeal, ground
2 tablespoons wheat germ
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the crumble topping:
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cold butter

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8x8 or 9x9 pan. For a little more fun, use a bundt pan or loaf pan. Think about what mom wants.

Whisk all of the dry ingredients together and set aside.

Whisk together brown sugar and eggs. Add yogurt and vanilla and whisk until just combined.
Fold the yogurt mixture into dry ingredients. Scoop the patter into the prepared pan and spread to the edges.
In a small bowl, stir together the cinnamon, whole wheat flour, and brown sugar. Using a box grater, shred the butter into the mixture. Use your hands to finish breaking up the butter until the mixture is crumbly.
Spread crumb mixture over the batter. Bake 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow the coffee cake to cool a few minutes before taking a slice and a fresh cup of coffee to mom.
Cake can be served warm or at room temperature. Bake it the night before for more time with mom on Sunday!

Be sure to share a great memory with the mom in your life!