Monday, December 23, 2013

Anise Mocha, A Christmas Coffee

My Christmas list this year includes the following items:
1) Max singing and dancing to," I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas"
2) The Christmas tree to remain decorated for just one day
3) And lastly, find at least one other use for my anise oil. This poor, lonely oil just sits and sits, hoping in vain to be the one pulled out of the dark cupboard and get some fresh air when the cupboard door is opened.

Number one has happened and was obviously the highlight of my entire year. My entire life. I can die a happy woman now.

Number 3 is right here. A creamy, chocolaty anise coffee, made with Gevalia coffee. The anise oil was so pleasantly surprised to be the one chosen to be taken from the cupboard. I should note that I liked the drink both with and without the addition of cinnamon and clove, so do whatever strikes your fancy!

I've gotten two out of my three items on my wishlist. Seeing as the pig and puff cats see the Christmas tree as their own personal toy, batting off ornaments and proudly bringing them up to the bedroom during the night to show off their hunting skills, I fear this one will never happen. But that's okay. Two out of three ain't bad.

And if like the rest of us, you could use a little help for the holidays, Kraft is here to help! Save up to $20 with coupons on participating Kraft products at Target. So you definitely want to print out the Gevalia coupon when you make this drink! 

Gevalia House Blend Coffee
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves (optional)
Brewed Gevalia House Blend Coffee
1 cup heavy cream
1/3-1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
scant 1/4 teaspoon anise oil

If you are feeling fancy, add the cinnamon and cloves to the coffee grounds before brewing. If not, just brew the coffee to your desired strength. I like 1/2 cup of coarsely ground coffee in my french press.

Mix the heavy cream and chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl/cup. Heat gently, stirring every 30 seconds, until the chocolate has melted into the cream. Stir in the anise oil. Fill a mug halfway with the coffee then top off with the chocolate anise mixture. Use an aerolatte or immersion blender on the coffee drink to get it foamy.


From shopping for gifts to planning family dinners, it’s hard to keep up with all your holiday to-do’s. This year, Kraft is helping out with great weeknight meals and entertaining ideas to make the season a little bit easier. Plus, Kraft is offering up to $20 in coupons, redeemable exclusively at Target, to make food shopping easier and to help you have a happy holiday season.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Kraft. The opinions and text are all mine.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chocolate Peppermint Crackers, or a Thin Mint Copycat Recipe

I feel as though I should be ashamed of this post.  Four ingredients, and one is Ritz crackers.

It works.  Oh it works.  In starting out as a short cut version of the adored thin mint cookie, that wonderful chocolate mint cookie sold by adorable girl scouts, it manages to surpass it.  The buttery flakiness of the cracker is so utterly satisfying to crunch and coats your mouth with that delicious fatty taste, and then your tongue hits those flakes of salt and becomes smitten by the unexpected encounter with a new flavor.  The chocolate peppermint combination is always so refreshing, and the candy cane topping on these gives your teeth something to savor, to linger over. We are unable to resist making these each  and every year.

I suppose one could make their own butter Ritz-like crackers.  But that is for a more ambitious person than me.  I'm not convinced it would be worthwhile to do so.  The Ritz crackers are perfect.  So I embrace its ease, though I do make a panicked phone call to my mom right as I'm going to make them and demand to know if I need to use peppermint or mint oil in these.  So finally, finally, I wrote it down.  I'm quite sure my mom appreciates my foresight this year.

These are just so incredibly easy, with only a bit of assembly necessary.  The kind of assembly where you put on a ridiculously awesome cheesy holiday movie like Love, Actually, plug in all the holiday lights, sit down with your chocolaty project, and revel in the cheesy glory of it all.  No shame necessary.

Need more Christmas treats?  Click here for a cookie slideshow from Cooking Light - so much festive deliciousness!

2 cups dark chocolate melting wafers
1/2 teaspoon - 3/4 teaspoon peppermint oil
25 Ritz crackers
peppermint chips or crushed candy cane, for sprinkling

Line a baking sheet or two with wax paper.  Melt the chocolate wafers (I used the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds), and stir in the peppermint oil.  Coat each cracker entirely with chocolate, and place on the wax paper.  Sprinkle peppermint chips or crushed candy cane on top.  Repeat for each cracker. Once the chocolate has hardened, consume copiously!

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter "Deliciously Simple" and Country Crock "Simply Delicious," A Review

It can be a lonely existence for butter, hanging out alone amongst the eggs, and milks, and cheeses.  Part of the group, but yet, so very very different.  So alone.  And especially these days, as sticks of butter are quickly being placed in the refrigerator, and almost immediately, taken back out of the refrigerator and turned into various holiday treats, leaving no time for mingling. And nothing to top our toasts.

Luckily, Unilever took pity on our single sticks of butter and sent some friends, some family to keep it company.  Unilever has two new spreads - I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Deliciously Simple and Country Crock Simply Delicious.  These two spreads use simple ingredients like yogurt, canola oil, and salt.


During our tasting, Max and I sampled the spreads, and as a control, we had a beloved butter out to compare along side...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lettuce Corn Leek Gratin

The English language has some truly horrendous sounding words.  Take for instance, the word "hoist," "or its stunningly appalling relative, "moist." Say those words aloud.  Does one not now feel as though dirt has accumulated on the skin and then drowned in layer of cooking oil?  It is self-evident that the combination of o-i-s-t is awful. Simply awful.

Other dreadful words include:

On the other hand, there are words that are absolutely glorious to say.  Like "gratin."  Gratin is a wonderful word to say.  It sounds so primal, so earthy.  I adore the way that "gr" sound is pushed from your mouth, as though you are blowing a bubble of happiness into the air.  Maybe that is exactly what it is.  Happiness, if one transforms the sonic expression into a dish to be devoured.

I must confess, I'm still not quite sure what exactly a gratin is. I think it is cheesy and goes in the oven?  If so, then this is a gratin.  If indeed that is not the requirement for being a gratin, then lets just use the word because I like it.

For this gratin, I took a head of lettuce, chopped up the leaves, added sliced leeks and frozen corn, and covered them in a cheesy, creamy sauce spiked with just a bit of horseradish and Dijon mustard.  Panko breadcrumbs seasoned with lemon zest litter the top.  A dish that tastes as good as it sounds.

1 head butter lettuce, chopped
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 leek, , washed and sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup chicken broth
1 1/2-2 cups grated cheddar
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
kosher salt
freshly ground black

1/2-1 cup panko
1 teaspoon lemon zest
sprinkle kosher salt

Heat oven to 375.  In large baking dish (I used my dutch oven), place chopped lettuce, corn, leek, garlic.  Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle salt and pepper.  In a large bowl, whisk together cream, broth, cheddar, horseradish, Dijon mustard, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.  Pour the cheesy, creamy liquid over the lettuce mixture.  Sprinkle top with panko and use microplane to grate lemon zest over top.

Bake until top is golden brown and the casserole is bubbly and cheese is melted - about 30-45 minutes.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Spinach Mandarin Pasta Salad with 5-spice Honey Dressing, a Recovery Pasta Salad

After an unexpected bout of food poisoning (I suppose there isn't an expected one.  If so, perhaps one should reconsider his or her life choices), I could feel the utter depletion of vitamins and nutrients in my body. Everything in my being - from my eyeballs to my skin to hair, felt washed out, gray, the complete opposite of vibrancy and vigor.

The soft, muffled cries for help from my bloodstream became hard to ignore.  As energy was still a bit lagging, a salad, with its inherent brightness and variety as well as its ease of preparation, seemed the best way to go about addressing the lack of vital nutrients. Here is a pasta salad with spinach, mandarin, some absolutely stunning Romanesco cauliflower, and some other goodies, topped with a gingery 5-spice honey dressing.

Though the offending food also contained pasta (pasta primavera actually, ala Seinfeld), that apparently did not deter me from using it in my salad.  Sometimes the very thing that leads to our downfall can be the same thing that leads to recovery.

For more great pasta salad ideas, click here.  Cooking Light has put together a slideshow of 25 pasta salad recipes - how can one not love the infinite possibilities that this dish has to offer?

For the salad:
1/2 of a large red onion, thinly sliced
lemon wedge
drizzle of olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

2 cups chopped spinach leaves
1 1/2 cups mandarin orange segments
5 cups cooked pasta (I used shells, but use whatever floats your boat)
1 cup chopped Romanesco cauliflower (feel free to substitute regular cauliflower, the Romanesco is just so beautiful!)
2 scallions, chopped
3 small carrots, chopped
1/4 cup chopped jicama
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

For the dressing:
1/3 cup canola
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons honey
lots of black pepper
pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon 5-spice powder

For the dressing: Whisk all the ingredients together.

For the pasta salad: In a small bowl, drizzle the onion slices with a bit of lemon juice, a bit of olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper.  Mix the red onion with the spinach, mandarin orange, pasta, cauliflower, scallions, carrots, jicama, and sunflower seeds.  Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle dressing over the salad, and use tongs to toss together.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Chocolate Coated Dried Apricots with Toasted Nuts

When faced with an insect inside the home, my first instinct is to kill it.  Murder it.  Cease its existence.  It is, perhaps, a macabre way of handling the situation.  But I just want the thing out of my life.

So it was definitely strange when I saw the bee at the kitchen window and didn't have the urge to kill it. I instead wanted to save it.  An especially strange response, when one considers its ability to sting.  Maybe I've read too many articles about the declining bee populations, maybe my heart went out to this struggling little creature, maybe I was just hoping to bring back some good karma in the form of honey - who knows.  But I surprised myself with this anti-bloodthirsty side of me.

I opened the window, hoping the bee would somehow make its way out.  It did not.  So I waited for it to calm down a bit, let it climb on a scallion, placed it in a cup, and got the bee outside.

And I continue to surprise myself in other ways.  I've been vehemently anti-dried-fruit for so long.  Yet, here I am happily eating them.  Though, it is hard to resist anything when coated with chocolate and almonds.  Life is full of surprises.  A fact that became quite clear to the spider I smashed with my child's play baseball bat.

1/2 pound dried apricots
6 ounces semisweet or dark chocolate chips
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup toasted almonds and/or hazelnuts and/or sunflower seeds
fleur de sel

Melt the chocolate with the coconut oil in a double boiler or very carefully in a microwave.  If using a microwave, heat it in 30-second intervals, and stir.  Once the chocolate has melted, add in the almond extract.  Dip a dried apricot in the chocolate mixture, then into a bowl of toasted nuts. Place on a baking sheet covered with wax paper. Sprinkle the coated apricot with a bit of fleur de sel. Repeat for each apricot. I keep these in the fridge once coated.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Crunchy Breakfast Bowl with Cereal, Seeds, Almonds, Ginger, and Fruit

Hot cereal and grains get all the attention. Yes, it is fall/winter in some places, so it is cold. But hot cereal is the thing that everyone plays with. Adds to. Personalizes. Loves.

But cereal eaten cold can also shine. I suppose I should confess that this is a rather recent revelation, as I've been giving it the cold shoulder (I'm hilarious) for awhile and eschewing it for everything else under the sun. It isn't clear how I fell out of love, but it happened.

Perhaps by relying on it for an absurd amount of years as my one and only breakfast. Perhaps by not realizing that one can add more than the occasional banana to the stuff.

But I have rekindled an appreciation, finding cool milk a creamy delicious vehicle for delivering crunchy morning time sustenance. But instead of taking it at face value, I'm adding stuff to it. Lots of stuff. To make a breakfast bowl.

Sliced strawberries and mandarin oranges are sprinkled with ginger and either 5-spice powder or cardamom. Poppy seeds and sunflower seeds are thrown in the mix, along with some chopped almonds. A drizzle of honey, unsweetened cereal, and milk brings everything together. What's not to love?

handful of sliced strawberries
mandarin orange, segmented
sprinkling of freshly grated ginger
5 spice powder or cardamom
sprinkling of poppy seeds
about a tablespoon of sunflower seeds
about 2 tablespoons chopped almonds
drizzle of honey
1/2 cup - 1 cup unsweetened cereal (I used puffed brown rice cereal)

In a bowl, mix together the berries, mandarin orange, and grated ginger. Sprinkle just a bit of 5-spice powder or cardamom. Add the poppy and sunflower seeds, almonds, and drizzle of honey. Add in the cereal and milk and you are good to go.
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