Archive for December, 2012

Festive (& easy) Rum Punch

Need an easy, quick and very delicious drink to serve at a gathering this New Year’s Eve? If so, you’re in luck! This is the recipe for a tasty Rum Punch that is a crowd-pleaser!Rum Punch

Ingredients:

1-1/2 Cups of Orange Juice

1-1/2 Quarts of Fruit Punch or Tropical Punch (Minute Maid)

2 Cups of Rum (Cruzan and Bacardi have a lot of flavored varieties you can experiment with)

1/2 Cup Triple Sec

2 oz Grenadine (Optional… but recommended)

Garnish with half moon slices of oranges, lemons or cherries!

Directions:

Combine all ingredients but the Ginger-ale in a large punch bowl or glass pitcher. Carefully add the Ginger-ale as to not create too much fizz, this will allow the punch to retain it’s bubbly flavors upon serving. Add your desired garnishes.

Gently stir, serve & enjoy!

Happy New Year!! 

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Cookie Swap Recap – 2012 Edition

As you all now know from my last post I participated in the 2012 Food Blogger Cookie Swap. I am so happy to see that many of the people I sent cookies to enjoyed them – yum! You can find the recipe here if you missed that blog post. I also enjoyed the cookies I received immensely so without further ado here are pictures and links to their wonderful cookies! All the cookie recipes that were swapped are available in these two blog posts: the little kitchen & love and olive oil .

First Arrival:Candy Girl KY Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies w/ Milk Chocolate Chunks. Peanut butter & chocolate are BIG hits in our household so these were SUCH a treat!! She set the bar high for our first cookie package!

From Candy at http://www.candygirlky.com/2012/12/the-great-food-blogger-cookie-swap.html

2nd Delivery:

Strawberry-Thyme CookiesStrawberry– Thyme Shortbread Cookies, Dipped in White Chocolate. I brought these in to work to share with my coworkers and they were gone in a matter of minutes – quite tasty!!

From Alyssa at http://sweetteasunshine.blogspot.com/p/recipes.html

Last but not least:Tea cookies

Earl Grey Tea Cookies. Really beautiful display — we all loved how the string was on there with each cookie. They also tasted DELICIOUS!! Everyone that tried these loved them, I almost didn’t share!!

From Aušra at http://vaikai-vanile.blogspot.com/


I sent my cookies to:

http://www.annadishesdaily.com/

http://www.mainlinefeast.com

http://www.chronicventure.com

Cheers to cookies, cheers to helping Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and cheers to all my readers this holiday season!

Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies – Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!

Cookie Swap 2012What an awesome event – again! We loved participating in this during its inaugural run in 2011 and 2012 proved to be just as much fun. I always like trying a new recipe for this particular swap and my high standards tell me that it has to be a universally appealing recipe, which led me to mint chocolate chip – who doesn’t love that ice cream flavor?! I modified my recipe off of one available from Betty Crocker found here.  I decided that using a pouch of sugar cookies for the base would be cheating so the recipe below includes instructions for homemade sugar cookies and the mint chocolate chip piece all rolled into one!

One thing I’ve neglected to mention is that not only are these extremely tasty – they got rave reviews from my in-person cookie swap (and husband!), but they are also ridiculously easy!! This is a win-win cookie: Delicious for those eating them and easy for those cooking them!

Ingredients

Awesome dough - smelled just like the ice cream1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter softened1/4 tsp mint extract
6 – 8 drops green food coloring
1 egg
1 cup white chocolate baking chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks

These guys are ready to cook!

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, butter, mint extract, egg and food coloring until a soft dough forms. Add your chocolate chunks and white baking chips.

Drop cookies about 2 inches apart on either an un-greased cookie sheet, or one lined with parchment paper (which is what I do!) for easy cleanup. Bake 8 – 10 minutes, let them cool on a wire rack and gobble them up!

Chocolate Chip Mint Cookies

Delicious Chocolate Chip Mint Cookies

Being the Host(ess) with the Mostest

I love hosting people – there is just something so fun about having people over and being able to create dishes they will enjoy, a fun and social atmosphere and have them leave with a smile because they had a fun time. I appreciate when people tell me that I’m a good hostess, since its something I enjoy doing!My mom was, and still is, a fabulous hostess. I don’t know how she does it but she truly makes hosting look effortless, dazzles her company AND has time to mingle and enjoy the event herself. I learned many hosting secrets by simply watching her and I’m so glad I did. There is another side of this coin though – folks that find hosting daunting. I understand that too – it’s not for everyone though I do believe every can host gatherings well. Hosting can become less daunting if you are prepared and organized.

Organization is Key

5 weeks ahead of time assemble your guest list and send out those invites. In this day and age, and depending on the type of gathering you’re hosting evites will usually be acceptable. I personally love evites from http://new.evite.com/#home – they have a great selection of styles, formats and its easy to send out reminders or updated notes about the event as it approaches.

At this point also start planning out your menu. What are you thinking of serving? Can any pieces of your menu be prepared, or partially prepared ahead of time and frozen until closer to the event? If so, tackle some of those tasks now and save yourself a headache the day of the event. Since your menu is planned out this far in advance also start scanning the local food-store ads for when these items go on sale. Since you have time to buy spread out the purchases as items are on sale and save yourself some money! Some easy things that can be made ahead of time and frozen:

  • Pie Dough – freeze 5 weeks ahead in pans or in parchment paper
  • Drop cookies – freeze mixed dough 3 weeks ahead
  • Roll-Out cookies – freeze mixed and rolled out dough 3 weeks ahead between parchment paper
  • Dinner Rolls – freeze 3 weeks ahead while dough is in the 2nd rise

Also start thinking about the details – not in any particular level of detail but think about things such as: what table-cloth and place settings will you be using? Will be hosting children and need to provide activities or goody-bags? How do you envision the evening going? All of those details will help you organize and make sure very little is overlooked that will leave you scrambling.

Deck the Halls

Before you go out on a decoration shopping binge assess what you have! Last year I went out and purchased everything I thought I ‘needed’ to decorate our home. When I got home and reviewed what was in our attic I saw that I wasted a lot of time on that shopping trip – I had brand new boxes of lights (both indoor and outdoor) and a new wreath. I’m a savvy shopper and must have purchases these items on a deep discount at the close of last year’s holiday season and had completely forgotten. If you take inventory ahead of your shopping you will save lots of time in knowing what you have and what you truly do need. At the end of each holiday season I do save seasonal plates, napkins, etc that I have around so that the next year I have less to purchase. Usually the smaller supplies of non-matching holiday paper-products are the perfect amount for a small gathering (cookie, swaps, etc).

Decorations do not have to be over the top unless you personally like them to be. Sometimes simple can alleviate stress and help guests focus on the gathering and conversations instead of lavish decor. If you are planning on hosting multiple events during any particular season opt for a centerpiece on your table that will last the entire season. This will prevent you from having to run out and grab multiple bouquets of fresh flowers and switch up your vases. Something, simple, and seasonal can go a long way in decorating your house and saving you time closer to your event(s).  Don’t forget about items in your yard that may make spectacular, and cheap, centerpieces and decorations. Hosting a winter gathering? Think of pine cones spray-painted, or dusted with glitter, or pine branches for a pine scent indoors….

If you are hosting a sit-down dinner be sure that your chosen centerpiece does not interfere with your guests being able to view each other from across the table. Buffets can host taller centerpieces. If you are offering up a buffet try to vary the heights of your serving dishes and decorations to create a more visually interesting buffet table display.

And of course – clean in small pieces ahead of time to avoid an all-on cleaning frenzy hours before guests are due to arrive. I usually save vacuuming for the day of the event so that I am confident my floors are relatively spotless. Dusting occurs over a few evenings the week before. If you space out these chores they are much more manageable and help you remain as sane as possible leading up to your event.

Final Countdown & How to Enjoy your Shindig

To ensure I have time to actually enjoy my party and not stress the day of I do a few things the day ahead so that I’m ready however early my first guest arrives.

Day Before:
Set the table – I refer back to my organization list(s) I have made about a month ago and start gathering up my items. If it’s a sit-down dinner I set the table the day, or two, before so its done. My family knows better to go anywhere within a 5 foot radius of the table once it has been set. To ensure I know which serving platters to use for which food items I put post-it notes on them with what will be in that dish. It is really helpful as my food is ready so that if I have a helper they know what goes where and this becomes seamless. Also ensures that you know what you’re serving and that you have the appropriate platters for all of your food.

Prepare your outfit – I’m sure you have had this in mind from when you decided to host your party but get out your clothes for the party and lay them out. Do any ironing or steam cleaning a day or so before this way you can quickly throw on your party clothes and have a ball!

Day Of:
Do the dishes – Feel free to assign this task out but I always find it helpful to have an empty sink and empty dishwasher before my gatherings begin. As food is done and plates are cleared I now have dishwasher and sink space available to put them in and not have stacks on my counters. Stacks of dirty plates on my counters really raises my stress levels.

Empty the closet  – If you’re hosting a winter or fall gathering your guests will likely arrive with coats so be sure you have secured a place to store them. My bedrooms are on a different level of my house than where most parties occur so I empty all of my family’s coats from the closet that morning or afternoon this way I have enough hangers and space to fit all of the coats that are coming in for the evening. If you have a bedroom nearby and prefer to lay the coats on that bed ensure that you’ve made that bed and room up since guests will be in and out of it.

Make sure to save time to relax the day of your party! You have a plan and you are organized so you know when to put the pigs in a blanket in the oven, when to remove then and when you expect folks to arrive. Kick back, and enjoy the company!

Attending a gathering? Don’t forget a small Hostess gift!

Available at World Market

Hosts clearly put a lot of time and effort into having you at their home, while many wouldn’t mind if you showed up empty-handed always having something small is a nice way to show your appreciation. I tend to buy hostess gifts in semi-bulk so that I have them on-hand and don’t have to worry the evening before an event about finding something to bring. Small candles are lovely ideas, as are seasonal soaps. Are you a whiz in the kitchen? Prepare some extra loaves of your famous what-nots to have on hand as last-minute hostess gifts, or reverse hostess gifts if you have unannounced visitors drop by!

Unless I am absolutely certain about what they are serving and what types of wine they prefer I shy away from wine so as not to muddle up their dinner plan. If you are someone who enjoys bringing a bottle of wine as a gift spice up the presentation with a cute play on the tired wine bag. I found these cute wine bottle decorations at World Market and they are always a hit! If you find that you give wine often you may want to consider buying the wine by the case so that you save trips to the store and even enjoy a small discount.

Regardless of where you are heading or who you are hosting – have a wonderful season and Happy Holidays!!

Easy as Chicken Pot Pie

This is a great fall and winter classic! It’s warm, makes your home smell delicious, helps use up leftovers you have waiting around and will feed your (smaller) family for a long time – can’t beat that! I am a sucker for those rotisserie chickens at Costco – I’m not sure what they put in those chickens but I absolutely love them, no Costco trip is complete if I don’t come home with one of those chickens. Being a family of 2 (the dog wishes we would let him eat our food) we are left with a lot of chicken after, and while chicken leftovers are good, they’re not delicious. This potpie allows me to really use the chicken and dress it up so it tastes really great and we get a few more meals out of it! Did I mention it was really easy to make? It is super, super easy which makes it even better for weeknight meals!

Ingredients

1 box of refrigerated pie crusts (or homemade if you’re that good!)
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
2 (or more) cups of cooked chicken (I go with what I have leftover. Either shredded, or semi-shredded and semi-cubed. It’s really completely up to you – you just want the pieces to be small. And anywhere from 2 – 3 cups is more than enough but don’t dress if you just barely make 2 cups of chicken. This is about using your leftovers)
Approx 2 1/2 cups Mixed Veggies (string beans, carrots, corn, etc) OR you can do a bag of frozen ‘stew veggies’ . I usually go for the frozen variety unless I have veggies at hand and want to use ’em up!
Pearl Onions (Optional!) or 1/2 cup chopped onion (also optional)

Directions

Pre-heat your oven to 425 F and follow the instructions on the box to make your pie crusts. Line your pie pan with one of your pie crusts.

Melt butter in a pot big enough to fit all the ingredients (I used a medium-sized saucepan). If you are using onions add them to your butter until tender while stirring them often. Stir in your flour, salt and pepper until blended and then gradually stir in your broth and milk. I usually add the broth and milk about 1/4 cup at a time to ensure it really mixes in. Continue cooking this until it is bubbly and a noticeably thicker consistency.

Add your chicken and veggies to the pot. Once they’re all added, remove from heat and start spooning this mixture into your crust-lined pie pan. Once everything is added into the bottom crust put the second crust on top, seal the edges and cut slits along the top. I also use a pinch extra milk here painted along the crust to help a nice browning happen while cooking in the oven.

Bake 30 – 40 minutes until crust is golden brown. We had a big issue with some of the contents spilling out the one side, so I would suggest putting a baking sheet on a lower oven rack to catch your drippings, or something similar to keep your oven clean(er). During the last 20 minutes of baking you will want to add foil to the crust edges to prevent the crusts from burning. Serve & Enjoy!!

Easy as Chicken Pot Pie

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