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Recipe: Apricot-glazed ham steaks

Beverly Rice's ham recipe is a welcome change from the chicken and fish recipes we frequently receive. Rice, who lives in Dalton, says, "I came up with the recipe in desperation one day -- looked through the pantry and fridge, and voila!" A glaze of apricot spread and orange juice and a topping of fresh orange slices give the meat a lot of flavor without overwhelming it. While last week we had to work to whittle the recipe down to meet the five-ingredient limit, Rice is happy with just four. -- Jeanne Besser 

Hands on time:   Total time: 30 minutes  Serves: 3

Ingredients:
    3 ( 1/4-pound) ham steaks or 1 ( 3/4-pound) ham steak cut into thirds 1/4 cup apricot spreadable fruit 1/4 cup orange juice 1 orange, peeled and sliced 
Instructions:

In a lightly oiled large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, add ham when skillet is hot. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. Add apricot spread and orange juice to skillet, stirring until spread melts. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 6 minutes, turning ham frequently, until coated with glaze. Transfer to serving plate and garnish with orange slices.

Nutrition:

Per serving: 233 calories (percent of calories from fat, 19), 27 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 5 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 51 milligrams cholesterol, 1,451 milligrams sodium.

Recipe: Breakfast casserole

In the Kitchen With ... Linda Roberts, Alpharetta From a special Atlanta Journal-Constitution feature in which readers nominate their favorite home cooks. Nominated by friend and co-worker Cindy Thompson: "Have you ever seen someone whose idea of relaxing is cooking a free breakfast for 100 or so friends? [Linda] learned at the knee of her grandmother and loves to share her down-home Southern cooking with everyone." See vegetarian option below.

Hands on time: 25 minutes  Total time: 1 hour  Serves: 12

Ingredients:
    6 slices bread 1 pound breakfast sausage or 8 ounces of thawed and crumbled (uncooked) vegetarian breakfast patties 1 teaspoon vegetable oil 1/2 large sweet onion, diced 1 cup broccoli florets 1 (7-ounce) can mushrooms, drained 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained 8 ounces grated cheddar cheese 12 eggs 1 1/2 cups half-and-half 1/2 teaspoon salt 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 
Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, and line the bottom with the slices of bread. In a large skillet, cook the breakfast sausage. Transfer the sausage to a large mixing bowl; drain the fat from the pan, and wipe it clean. Add the vegetable oil, and cook the onion until golden, about 5 minutes. Add it to the bowl with the sausage. In a small saucepan, cook the broccoli in a small amount of water until the broccoli turns bright green, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the broccoli, and add it to the mixing bowl. To the sausage mixture, add the mushrooms, tomatoes and grated cheese. Stir to combine, and then spread the mixture evenly over the bread in the baking dish. Break the eggs into the mixing bowl, and beat well with the half-and-half, salt and pepper. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the sausage mixture. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until casserole is semi-firm and puffed in the center. 

Notes:

Tester's note: To reduce the cholesterol and fat count, you can use reduced-fat cheese and leave out some or all of the egg yolks. You can also substitute 8 ounces of thawed and crumbled (uncooked) vegetarian breakfast patties for the cooked sausage. You can assemble this dish the night before and bake it in the morning, or you can cook it and store it in the refrigerator for a few days. Reheat individual pieces in the microwave.

Nutrition:

Per serving: 391 calories (percent of calories from fat, 20), 17 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 30 grams fat (13 grams saturated), 244 milligrams cholesterol, 669 milligrams sodium.

Recipe: Trefoils cheesecake cups

What Can I Bring? Perfect for: School parties, Scouting functions, or any casual treat. Make and take: Make the cheesecake filling up to 24 hours in advance of serving. Assemble and serve. Made famous by: Little Brownie Bakers, a baker of Girl Scout cookies for more than 25 years, came up with this convenient use for your "leftover" Trefoils cookies. What, no leftovers? To locate a sales booth near you, go to www.girlscoutsnwga.org.Tip: Make this dessert in individual cups, or assemble it in a trifle serving dish or a large glass bowl. 

Hands on time: 10 minutes  Total time: 10 minutes  Serves: 8

Ingredients:
    1 (10-ounce) box Trefoils Girl Scout cookies 1 (3.4-ounce) package instant cheesecake pudding mix 1 3/4 cups milk 12 ounces whipped cream cheese 1 pound (2 pints) strawberries, sliced Chocolate syrup 
Instructions:

Set aside 16 Trefoils cookies for garnish. Crush remaining cookies. With an electric mixer, combine the pudding mix, milk and whipped cream cheese until smooth and creamy. In 8 individual serving dishes or in 1 large serving bowl, sprinkle half the crushed cookie crumbs. Top with 1/3 of the strawberries. Top with 1/2 the pudding mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 of the cookie crumbs, then top with another 1/3 of the strawberries and the remaining pudding. Drizzle with chocolate syrup. Garnish with remaining strawberries and reserved whole cookies. 

Nutrition:

Per serving: 379 calories (percent of calories from fat, 50), 5 grams protein, 43 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 21 grams fat (13 grams saturated), 55 milligrams cholesterol, 504 milligrams sodium.

Recipe: Ambrosia dessert

Southern Recipe Restoration Project Ambrosia is a staple of many a Southern holiday table -- often embellished with marshmallows, whipped topping, nuts, maraschino cherries and more. This version, tested by chef Virginia Willis, proves that simple is often best. 

 The contributor: Lore Tarrance and her husband are formerly from Alpharetta, where they were among the first residents of the Windward subdivision. 

The story: Tarrance's husband’s grandmother, Sallie Fannie Rowland, ran a boardinghouse in her home from 1920 to the 1940s, to support her children, including Dorothy Lucia, known as Dot, Tarrance's husband's mother. 

"At holiday gatherings, while Dot was alive, she spoke of her mother and her wonderful cooking. Some of these recipes were passed to me. The ambrosia, simple as it is in ingredients, is definitely a refreshing favorite. It was always served as a dessert after a huge [holiday] meal, when it was peak season for citrus." 

-- As told to Susan Puckett

Hands on time: 10 minutes  Total time: 10 minutes  Serves: 4

Ingredients:
    6 oranges, preferably Temple 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut Granulated sugar, to taste
Instructions:

Using a sharp paring knife, remove ends of orange. Set the oranges on end and remove peel by cutting between the peel and flesh, rotating as peel is removed. Then, working over a medium bowl, slice between membranes to remove segments, allowing juice and segments to fall into bowl. Add coconut and sugar, to taste. Stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate to marinate for 1 to 2 hours. Serve immediately.

Notes:

This recipe calls for 1 to 2 hours of chilling time.

Nutrition:

Per serving: 140 calories (percent of calories from fat, 19), 2 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 3 grams fat (3 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 24 milligrams sodium. 

Surprising things to make in a Vitamix

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If you’ve got any interest in cooking, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of a certain little gadget known as the Vitamix. Thanks to powerful, high-speed blades, this multitasking blender has cemented its status in the blogosphere as the ultimate kitchen tool,  becoming the stuff of culinary daydreams and dominating Amazon wish lists.

But as with many good things, there’s a catch. Here, it’s the price tag, running upwards of $400 apiece (a number that can break your heart and your piggy bank.) Saturday Night Live merrily lampooned Vitamix sticker shock, but its fans readily defend it, citing the value it brings and the time it can save when you’re in the kitchen. If you’re considering investing in one, check out this handy chart that can help you decide which model would suit you. If you’ve already on the super-blender bandwagon, get ready to put that sucker to use in ways you didn’t even know possible and read on for our ultimate, jumbo Vitamix recipe list.

 

  You might also like:

This Blender Will Totally Change Your Smoothie Game (And Life)

Don’t have a Vitamix? Don’t feel left out! We’ve marked with an asterisk the recipes that are possible with a regular-speed blender or food processor.

 

Recipe Building Blocks and Household Uses 

So why does Vitamix inspire such devotion? It’s a great enabler of prepping and cooking shortcuts, singlehandedly serving as a substitute for multiple other kitchen gadgets—think immersion blenders, graters, stand mixers, juicers, and more! (And it’s a little easier justifying that price tag if you were going to spend money on four or five other appliances.) If you’ve thought of it as just a smoothie-making appliance, this list of cooking staples (and more) will blow the top off your blender. 

Nut and Seed Butters

Our love of nut butter knows no limits. You can’t go wrong with classic and all-natural peanut. But feel free to break new ground with macadamia, pistachio, even cayenne-infused sunflower seed butter. (You won’t find that at Whole Foods!) Add any sweeteners or flavorings you like. 

 

Vitamix Nut Milk Photo: The Rawtarian Pin it Share

 

Non-Dairy Milks

Homemade nut milk sounds like a hassle, but it’s easier than you think! Try these recipes for almondhempcashew, and walnut milks, or check out this general how-to for nut milk. Bonus: It’s much cheaper than the store-bought stuff and missing the scary additives.

DIY Flour

Whether you’re going gluten-free or just feel like experimenting beyond plain old whole wheat, use your Vitamix to make almondcoconut, and a host of other types of funky flours. And if you regularly use alternative flours, you’ll definitely save money DIY-ing it.

Shredded and Chopped Veggies

No need for a food processor to make produce-based dishes like this Brussels sprouts with currants and toasted hazelnuts, this salsa fresca, or even this nice, big blended salad. The handy Vitamix does all the legwork—or arm work as the case may be!

Pureed Fruits and Leafy Greens

Be it berries, spinach, or sweet potatoes, process them to a pulp and freeze for convenient add-ins to future juices, soups, and smoothies. (Another money-saver to use up produce before it turns on you.)

Pie Crust

However you like it—raw and ready to go, or bake-able—having a pie crust prepped is like having a party playlist on rotation: a shortcut to good times. 

Pizza Dough

Easier, healthier, customizable, and so much more fun than delivery,homemade pizza dough is a game-changer. 

 

Photo: Clean Cuisine

Condiments

Mayonnaise, ketchup, sour cream, barbecue sauce—it’s possible to DIY it all, without weird preservatives or buckets of sugar!

Salad Dressings

Go with basic vinaigrettes or get creative with dressings like ginger scallion,Caesar, and fresh avocado fiesta.

Fresh Juice

No offense to Jamba Juice, but once you’ve mastered this nifty trick to straining your own fruit ‘n’ veg combo in a Vitamix, you may never turn back.   

Smoothies

Smoothies are the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to a Vitamix, and with good reason. Check out this formula for the perfect smoothie, but don’t be afraid to get creative with the combinations or use veggies that would be difficult to break down in a regular blender—that’s precisely what the Vitamix is for. See our favorites in the recipes below! 

Sweet Toppings

Who needs that squirtable canned stuff or the tubs of hydrogenated oils andcorn syrup when the Vitamix can turn coconut milk into whipped cream and cashews plus cocoa powder into frosting.

Compost

The Vitamix doesn’t just make cooking easier; it makes eco clean-up easier too! Don’t waste the stalks of your veggies, shells of your eggs, or rinds of your fruit—throw ‘em in the blender and get composting!

Beauty Products

Whether it’s shining up your hair with homemade treatment or showing your skin some love with this pumpkin-based face mask or this aromatic body scrub, use a Vitamix to make at-home spa days a cinch!  

Vitamix Recipes 

Tips and shortcuts aside, the Vitamix can play the starring role in making full, healthy meals too. Be it pasta sauce or waffles, get your money’s worth with these recipes, which make the Vitamix a crucial part of the prepping and cooking process. 

Dips, Sauces, and Marinades Photo: Our Four Forks 1. Spinach and Artichoke Dip

The happy-hour greasebomb gets much happier (and healthier) with this protein-pumped sauce makeover, made in the Vitamix with cashews, protein-full cannellini beans, and antioxidant-rich coconut milk (versus the usual cheese and sour cream). 

2. Hummus in the Blender*

The super strong Vitamix blades can whiz chickpeas and whole sesame seeds together to yield an extra silky-smooth hummus without gobs of tahini or oil. (Both are delicious, but can get heavy on the fat per serving.) Don’t forget to get crazy with the seasonings—half the fun of hummus is all the ways you can riff on it, and this blogger has plenty of nutritious suggestions! (Tip: Use less liquid and warm chickpeas, and you can get similar results with a regular food processor too.)

3. Not-So-Cheese Buffalo Chicken Dip

Buffalo dip may be a Superbowl treat, but there’s no need to wait until game day to try this Vitamix-made version. Butter and cream cheese get benched, dropping the saturated fat, and star players nuts and nutritional yeast hike up the omega-3 and vitamin B counts. Serve with baked pita chips for an all-around, feel-good comfort food. 

4. Jerk Marinade* 

Always thought kebabs with fancy marinades were just too much work for a regular weeknight? Allow the Vitamix to step in and save the day—and your time. There is almost no work involved: Just throw a bunch of fragrant and cancer-fighting ingredients (habanero chiliesturmeric, and garlic) into the blender, and puree away. Pour over the skewered veggies and protein of your choosing for an elevated snack or meal. 

5. Vegan Garlic Alfredo Sauce*

Oh hello, velvety, garlicky goodness. Armed with blenders and a bit of imagination, bloggers have created countless “healthified” Alfredo sauces.  But this one stands out from the rest for ditching soy and gluten (no flour needed!) along with being dairy and oil-free. Using cashews, it ups the magnesium factor while slashing the fat by a whopping 36 grams per serving compared to the egg yolk and heavy cream-soaked restaurant version. 

6. Kale and Walnut Pesto*

Everyone should have a go-to homemade pesto sauce in his or her culinary repertoire. Make this one yours. Not only does it switch up the regular spinach for superfood-of-the-moment kale, but the Vitamix dramatically reduces prep time, whipping up an iron- and omega-3-filled blend ofgreens and nuts in mere minutes.

 

Vitamix Creamy Tomato and Eggplant Sauce Photo: The Simple Kitchen

7. Creamy Vegan Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Sauce

We know how it is: Every dairy-free pasta sauce recipe seems to resort to cashews for that rich-and-creamy boost. That’s where this recipe steps in. Thanks to the pulverizing power of the Vitamix, heart-healthy olive oil and garlic-roasted veggies combined with a bit of non-dairy milk can be churned into a sauce silky enough to rival any nut- or cheese-based version. 

8. 60-Second Applesauce, Raw or Simmered

The title of this recipe says it all: No need for hours of stewing fruit over the stovetop for homemade applesauce. When the Vitamix is involved, you’re talking seconds for a raw and chunky rendition, or about three extra minutes for the cooked kind. It doesn’t get fresher or faster than that. Either way you go, don’t leave out the vanilla and blood-sugar-stabilizing cinnamon for extra depth of flavor that compliments the fiber in the apples

9. Bitchin’ Sauce 

OK, so the name of the recipe is a bit unorthodox. (Look away, Mom!) But then you realize how incredible it really is: It’s chock-full of healthy ingredients, from the metabolism-spiking spices to the skin-enhancinggrapeseed oil; it’s incredibly versatile—dunk a chip into it or drizzle it onto veggies; and it takes all of three minutes to make. Now really, could you call this addictive sauce anything other than bitchin’?

Soups 10. Blender Acorn Squash Soup

Most recipes for smooth soup involve two steps: cooking them on the stovetop and pureeing them in a blender. But the Vitamix takes the two-step process down to one by heating and blending simultaneously—hooray for time-slashing techniques! Give it a try with this aromatic, savory-sweet recipe of souped-up squash and apples. Coconut milk—found to reduce badcholesterol levels—both thickens it up and gives it a silky finish. 

11. Gazpacho*

Given all the veggies and chopping it calls for, gazpacho can be kind of intimidating. Save yourself the effort and still get your summery soup fix by throwing everything, from the garlic and the olive oil to the tomatoes and the cucumbers, in your Vitamix and blending until your desired consistency. Whether you prefer it chunky or smooth, you’re only about 30 seconds away from a phytochemical-packed, blood-pressure-lowering meal 

Vitamix Broccoli Soup Photo: Sarah’s Cucina Bella

12. Easy Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Broccoli cheddar, we’re calling you out as one of the biggest healthy food imposters on the menu with minimal greens and heaps of cheese and butter. But this version deserves its health halo, with just half a cup of high-quality cheddar divided among four servings and carrots joining the broccoli for extra skin-protecting beta-carotene . Health benefits aside, the other bonus is that the Vitamix can warm the soup as it blends, consolidating prep, cook, and heat time into a single step. Perfect for dinner on the fly.

13. 10-Minute Tortilla Soup*

It’s a warmer version of gazpacho, with an amped up protein and fiber count from the addition of black beans and corn. Have it ready in a jiffy by using the soup setting on the Vitamix, and top with your favorite healthy taco fixin’s, from (baked!) tortilla chips to buttery avocado

14. Potato Pumpkin Soup

Soup’s on, indeed, with this incredibly quick-to-make, filling-to-eat puree of potato and pumpkin. A combination of ginger and cilantro lend the veggies an exotic edge plus digestion-aiding properties. With just a splash of almond milk and broth, the result is almost like a thick, spoonable stew. Give it the “Vitamix treatment” (i.e. use the “puree and heat” setting). 

15. Six-Ingredient, Six-Minute Tomato Soup

Thought a 10-minute soup was fast? This recipe cuts the cooking time down by four minutes as the Vitamix blitzes a veggie-riffic combo of onions, carrots, celery, and tomato into a steaming bowl of mood-boosting comfort. Despite all the other veggies, the tomato flavor is still unmistakable, making it the ideal concoction to dunk a grilled cheese into, pair with a salad, or scoop up with a side of Saltines. 

Entrees 16. Baked Veggie Frittata

Talk about a Lazy Sunday: Sit back, relax, and let Vitamix whip up brunch with this protein and fiber-filled frittata. It chops the veggies and beats theeggs, leaving you with nothing to do except pour the entire mixture into a dish and bake. Use the vegetables in the recipe, swap in your own nutrient-rich produce picks, or go with one of our favorite combos. Brunch is served! Pair with a mimosa and Netflix.

 

Vitamix Plant Burger Photo: Eat, Live, Run

17. Plant Burgers*

There’s nothing like wrapping two hands around a solid, homemade veggie burger. But admittedly, just thinking about how much dicing and pulsing goes into making a batch can drive us to those premade frozen patties. Here’s a shortcut. While this recipe requires more than a handful of ingredients, the Vitamix (or a food processor) makes prepping them a totally doable process, and you won’t be tempted to skip steps and ingredients. Thank goodness for that, because there is so much good stuff going on in these meatless patties, from blood flow-boosting beets to fiber-full bulgur.

18. Vegan Mac and Cheese*

When it comes to mac and cheese, that blue box may be a quick-fix meal, but baffling ingredients like “Yellow No. 6” don’t inspire much confidence in the nutrition department. This all natural, vegan mac and cheese has a sauce of cashews, nutritional yeast, and a dash of turmeric that beats the pants off the powdered stuff in terms of flavor.  And it has the all the mood-boostingbenefits of zinc, anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin, and zero sketchy chemicals. Plus, using a Vitamix gives it a cooking time that rivals the microwave. 

19. Cauliflower Paleo Fried Rice

Cauliflower may be all the rage right now, but the mess involved when chopping up it up definitely isn’t a party. Have the Vitamix do the dirty work: One quick push of the “pulse” button, and you’ve got pulverized florets in mere seconds that can sub in for rice. Not only is this Paleo version of this Chinese classic a low-carb, vitamin K-rich dish, but with the added protein of eggs, it’s filling too. 

20. Sweet Potato Hash Browns*

If you think hash browns are strictly the turf of weekend brunch, get a ready to treat yo self with the help of the Vitamix any day of the week. Thanks to its speedy chopping, it’s easy to pull together a quick, flavorful hash. Throw in some kale for cancer-combating compounds and a hit of sweetness and fiber with diced apples for a powerhouse breakfast that’ll charge your morning. 

21. Indian Tomato Curry*

Whip up a multi-purpose deep-flavored curry base that can transform basic chicken or tempeh and veggies. A Vitamix helps the cashews break down into a smooth paste without multiple rounds of pulverizing. The addition of yogurt aids digestion, and tomatoes bring on the antioxidants. (It’s worthbuying organic if you can.) The result? A lighter, cream-filled curry that’s still satisfyingly rich and spicy.

22. Green Eggs

Dr. Seuss would appreciate this inventive take on “green eggs.” And you’ll appreciate how quickly it comes together. Throw the kale and the eggs in a Vitamix; the two superfoods get beaten together for a frothy, fluffy, and forcefully colored twist on the breakfast favorite.

Vitamix Lasagna Photo: My Custard Pie 

23. Tomato, Lentil, and Spinach Vegetarian Lasagna

Lasagna is pretty much the poster child for comfort food, but it’s incredibly time-consuming to pull together. That’s why this recipe really shines a light on everything the Vitamix can do. Chop the carrots and churn up both the tomato and Bechamel sauces in the high-speed blender for the easiest lasagna you’ll ever make. As an added advantage, lentils lend protein and fiber to the typically carb-heavy dish. (Note: Ingredients are measured in grams, so if you don’t have a kitchen scale, you can use an online calculator like this.)

24. Baked Green Falafel*

The batter for these Middle Eastern-inspired patties comes together in a flash, all thanks to the Vitamix, which processes the cholesterol-reducinglegumes and herbs faster than you can say “chickpea patty.” Baking them not only further eliminates the time and mess that deep-frying would require, but also helps keep them on the heart-healthy side with minimal added oil. 

25. Zucchini, Summer Squash, and Scallion Pancakes

Spare yourself the arm-aching effects of a grater, and use your high-speed blender for these savory, bursting-with-vitamin-C fritters instead. Over the course of 30y to 40 seconds, a Vitamix shreds your squash and adds your binding agents to create a smooth batter ready for scooping onto a skillet and flipping into crispy-yet-chewy, veggie-packed flapjacks. Use a nonstick pan to cut down on the amount of fat needed for cooking the pancakes too.  

Baked Goods 26. Oat Apple Muffins

You may not consider yourself a baker now, but after the ease of these muffins, you might just start shopping for monogramed aprons. A Vitamix blends the dry ingredients, then mixes in the wet. All you have to do is scoop the batter into tins and bake until they’re golden. Gluten-free baking is suddenly stress-free too.

 

Vitamix Carrot Bread Photo: A Baker's House For a list of 52 recipes to make in a Vitamix, go to Greatist.com.

Healthy and portable mason jar meals

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Only a few years ago, mason jars were pretty much strictly for canning. Now, most likely thanks to social media, they’re as trendy as green juice and coconut oil. Sure, they can house wedding centerpieces and tiki torches, but even better: They make portable, portion-control meals a cinch—some don’t even need a second of cooking! Plus, hello food porn! Who knew salads looked even more appetizing stacked?

 But don't worry if you don’t feel like you #nailedit on the presentation. Taste buds know that it’s what inside that counts, and these recipes are sure to please.

Breakfast 1. Blueberry and Grilled Peach Quinoa Parfait

This beaut calls for grilled peaches to up the sweet ante, though fresh work just as well in a time-crunch. Layered with nutty quinoa, creamy Greek yogurt, crunchy pecans, and soft blueberries and drizzled with maple syrup, it’s a symphony of textures so delicious we’d make it for dessert too.

2. Bacon and Eggs in a Jar

Mason jar breakfasts aren’t all layered parfaits, oats, and chia seeds. Hearty combinations like this one work just as well, making eggs portable without putting them on an English muffin or bagel. Instead, toss in a jar with bacon, spinach, and cheese, and nuke in the microwave for a speedy, healthy meal.

3. Salted Turtle Overnight Oats

Turtle chocolate lovers, this one’s for you. If you’re not familiar with the sweet, it’s a delightful combo of chocolate, caramel, and pecans mixed together. This a.m. meal keeps it healthy with medjool dates as a surprisingly perfect stand-in for caramel, plus cocoa powder, unsweetened almond milk, oats, and of course the pecans. Decadent and delish!

4. Blueberry Pancake in a Jar

That’s right—flapjacks to go! Made with real ingredients rather than prepackaged mix and vegan (or not, if you desire), this version cooks in the microwave and is all the light, fluffy, fruity goodness you expect off the griddle. Plus the jar makes for easy portion control since a stack of pancakes can go down pretty easy.

5. Breakfast Jar Parfait

Gotta love a recipe that doesn’t require cooking. Oats and chia seeds soak up milk, vanilla, and cinnamon overnight to make a thick pudding-like treat. Alternated with Greek yogurt, berries, and peanut butter and topped with granola come morning, this nutritious meal takes just minutes to put together and is perfectly portable. Take that, Mickey D’s. 

6. Oven-Baked Egg and Vegetable Cups

Who you callin’ half pint? This meal comes in a smaller container but still packs satisfaction from egg’s protein. Asparagus may help ease a hangover, so consider making these before a big night, then warm one up once you finally crawl out of bed.

7. Granola Breakfast in a Mason Jar

Can’t go wrong with the classic: fruit, yogurt (try goat yogurt, which has less sugar than yogurt make from cow’s milk), granola (we recommend homemade to control the sugar), and bananas. Mix protein powder into the yogurt for extra flavor, and switch up the other ingredients based on what’s in season and what you want!

8. Overnight, No-Cook Refrigerator Oatmeal

With this basic recipe, you can wake up to a delicious breakfast with a good amount of protein in a different flavor every day! Try raspberry vanilla for a dose of fiber,blueberry maple for anti-inflammatory anthocyanins to protect against cancer and heart disease, or mango almond for a kick of immune-boosting vitamin C.

9. Mason Jar Breakfast Casserole

Despite the slew of oat recipes out there, morning mason jar options for Paleo eaters do exist. This one takes a hash of sausage, sweet potatoes, onions, and eggs scrambled with coconut milk—a source of appetite-suppressing medium-chain fatty acids—and bakes everything in the jars. Make a few and have breakfast set for the week.

10. Choco-Banana Refrigerator Oatmeal

Waking up with chocolate is approved when it’s this healthy and balanced. Yet it’s so creamy and rich thanks to chia seeds, yogurt, and soaked oats, it tastes like a treat. Top with extra bananas, walnuts, and honey, and it’s ready to go.

Salads 11. Zucchini Pasta Salad With Avocado Spinach Dressing

Zucchini noodles with a Greek yogurt-avocado dressing—what’s not to like? Mixed with red bell pepper (which has more vitamin C than an orange), tomatoes (for lycopene), buttery edamame, crunchy celery, and salty feta and olives, if you’re not drooling yet, there’s something wrong with you! 

12. Shrimp Feta Cobb Salad

With fewer calories, less fat, and the same amount of protein as ham, we’re not sure why we didn’t think to put shrimp in a cobb salad before. There’s still the cheese, egg, and bacon in this recipe, plus a variety of vegetables that can be adapted as you like.

13. Minty Chickpea Yogurt Parfaits

The breakfast fave takes a walk on the savory side in this recipe that’s loaded with flavor, texture, and nutrients. We’re talking chickpeas, raisins, cucumbers, olives, tomatoes, walnuts, pistachios, and mint, with a Greek yogurt-based ranch dressing to bring everything together. Warning: This will inspire you to experiment with other fun ways to try savory yogurt!

14. Mango Black Bean Mason Jar Salad

There’s something about fruit in a salad that gives it an exotic feel, and this version is no exception. With mangos, avocados, black beans, corn, and quinoa, this colorful, fiber-packed salad has a Tex-Mex feel with a little added sweetness. The blogger describes it as “kick ass,” so be sure you put your name on it in the company fridge—you don’t want this stolen!

15. Creamy Citrus Chicken and Orzo Salad in a Jar

Rice-shaped orzo is actually pasta. This would make a nice picnic dish that’s lighter than traditional pasta salad yet hearty. The zesty orange-balsamic dressing—made creamy with Greek yogurt—goes beautifully with the grilled chicken and sweet roasted red pepper.

For links to 27 healthy and portable mason jar meals, go to Greatist.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Awesome ways to use leftover wine

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“Leftover wine” may sound like a mythical (or at least, laughable) idea for some of us. But whether you just had a party or simply can’t soldier through a full bottle solo, at some point you’ll be facing this dilemma: A partially consumed bottle is rattling around your kitchen and the clock is ticking on its drinkability. Don’t worry. We’ve scoped out some of the healthiest, most efficient, and most fun ways to use up the excess before it’s too late!

First Things First—Is Wine Really Healthy?

While it’s wishful thinking that doctors will be prescribing drinking sprees anytime soon, there are certain benefits to drinking in moderation. Both whites and reds contain anti-tumor properties  as well as substances known to fend off heart disease . But since reds boast higher levels of them, they’re billed as the healthiest of the wine family. Their antioxidants, known as polyphenols, lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, prevent blood clots, and protect blood vessels. So pour yourself a serving (that’sfive ounces a day for women and 10 ounces for men) to reap those benefits without going overboard, and read on to see what to do with the rest of that bottle.

How Long Does Wine Last?

Once opened, wine immediately starts to oxidize, a process that causes chemical disintegration and results in a beverage that’s faded in color, less potent in flavor, and has all-around lost its luster. The shelf life of wine depends largely on the type you’re using. Is it red, white, or sparkling? Even how dry or sweet it is has an impact on how long it'll last. Generally red wines hold up better than whites, and aged varieties outlast younger ones, so drink up your Pinot Grigot before moving on to the Malbec. As a basic timeline, young wines should hold up for three or four days, and older wines about a week. The exceptions are dessert wines and port, which can last up to a year after opening.

The bad news: There’s no real way to significantly extend the life of a bottle once opened. The good news? There are ways to avoid throwing that delish stuff down the drain, and to keep wine’s flavor at its peak during its limited window of freshness. 

1. Buy smaller bottles. It’s a lot easier to polish off 375ml than 750ml in one sitting. Another option is just to pour your wine into a smaller bottle if you can’t finish it all. That’ll minimize the oxidation. Remember to re-cork it tight!

2. Buy boxed wine. While boxed varieties started off with an, um, questionable reputation, their quality has improved over the years. Now they boast benefits that can compete with their bottled counterparts, not just in terms of cost and environmental friendliness, but shelf life too. Opened boxes can last as long as two months, compared to merely five days for bottled wine. See? It pays to think inside the box! 

3. Keep things cool. As the existence of wine coolers suggests, it’s important to keep bottles away from too much heat or light, which can ruin the wine’s flavor. The optimal storing temperature is 55 F (12-13 C). If you don’t have a cooler, try a dark cupboard or the fridge. 

4. Freeze it. Pour any remaining wine into ice cube trays for short-term storage. While you may not want to straight-up drink it after thawing, it becomes a great pinch hitter when you need an extra flavor boost for sauces, glazes, or stews. 

Good to the Last Drop—Your Action Plan

Ready to use up the bottom of that bottle? If you're not going to guzzle it, there are two basic approaches: cooking with it or using it for household tasks. If you're going the first route, remember the golden rule: If you wouldn’t drink it (eventually), don’t cook with it! And if you're not going to cook with it, don’t throw it down the drain (see all our household uses for wine).

1. Vegan Scallops in White Wine Cream SauceWine needed: ⅓ cupMeat and dairy may be off-limits for vegans, but that doesn’t mean wine is off the menu (thank goodness!). This herbivore-friendly dinner uses a third of a cup of white, along with coconut milk, which offers a dose of infection-fighting lauric acid. Together they form a silky sauce that envelops the oyster mushrooms standing in for scallops. While robust Chardonnays are best for holding up to creamy dishes, really any leftover dry white wine will do here.

2. Poached Eggs in a Red Wine SauceWine needed: 2 cupsElevate the incredible, edible egg to a whole new level by surrounding it with a rich wine sauce. Using a hefty serving of red whisked in to a hearty mixture of veggies, herbs, and bacon, this classic French recipe is a handy way to use up any unfinished full-bodied variety like a Shiraz or a Malbec. Serve with a hunk of crusty garlic bread to help sop up all that wined-up, yolky goodness—your daily serving of protein couldn’t get more delicious.

3. White Wine Mushroom Bruschetta With HalloumiWine needed: just under ½ cupA touch of cream and a splash of leftover white wine are all you need to lend this easy bruschetta a velvety topping. Stir it in to a sauté of vitamin D-filled mushrooms (feel free to experiment with different types), and spoon over baguette pieces topped with halloumi cheese. Result: A wow-worthy appetizer or the ideal meaty-yet-light side for a simple salad. (Note that this recipe uses metric measurements instead of U.S. standard, but no need to be exact with the cheese slices and cream.)

4. Lemon Pepper Wine-Braised Baby BroccoliWine needed: ½ cupBroccoli is anything but boring when it’s been braised in wine! Flora Foodie’s recipe takes barely 10 minutes and uses just six ingredients, letting the fruitiness of the white wine and freshness of the lemon really shine through. A mere two teaspoons of melted Earth Balance give this dish its crunchy, buttery breadcrumb topping. Keep this healthy, fiber-full side dish in mind the next time you need to finish that bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (or want an excuse to open a new one). 

5. Fresh Tomato Sauce With Balsamic and Red WineWine needed: ⅛ cupTurn the dregs at the bottom of the bottle into the key secret ingredient for this zippy sauce, to be ladled generously over pasta, used as a dip for bread, or as a base for pizza. Fresh tomatoes provide vitamin C and calcium, balsamic vinegar lends a sweet and tangy kick, and the vino brings in a sophisticated, antioxidant-enriched depth. An eighth of a cup may not sound like much, but use a bold red wine like a Zinfandel, and a little will go a long way.

6. Red Onion Marmalade CrostiniWine needed: ½ cupCaramelized onions are a revelation, but this marmalade takes things up a notch by browning this inflammation-reducing veggies in a reduction of wine, soy sauce, and a pat of butter.  If you’ve got some uncorked Pinot Noir–or any other dry red—sitting around, now’s the time to call it into action. Spoon the sweet and savory mixture onto a goat-cheese smeared crostini for a cocktail party in your palm!

7. Eggplant and Tofu Ratatouille With Thai BasilWine needed: ¼ cupAlthough red wine might seem like an unusual ingredient for a dish containing tofu, the small serving used for this one-pot meal not only complements the more traditionally Asian elements of garlic, soy, and Thai basil, but gives them a warmth and complexity. Since it’s competing with other strong flavors, be sure you’re using up a heartier wine that can hold its own, like a Petit Syrah. Brimming with veggies and made even more hearty with protein-packed tofu, this nourishing, one-pot meal is both unusual and comforting.

8. Homemade Baked Beans With Red WineWine needed: 1 cupDitch the syrupy canned stuff and class up your next BBQ with this slightly tipsy version of baked beans. The combination of tomato paste and red wine gives the classic side a more refined sweetness and a lower glycemic index than if you were to use plain old sugar. Make it a few days in advance for the sauce to permeate further into the beans.

9. Angel Hair Pasta With Lemon Garlic Cherry TomatoesWine needed: ½ cupChannel the flavors of summer, no matter what the calendar says, with this effortless pasta. Cherry tomatoes (let's hear it for lycopene!) gets paired with plenty of flavanoid-containing fresh basil. A half a cup of white wine and a squirt of lemon make up its light sauce; again, Sauvignon Blanc works well here for a fruity, herbal punch that isn’t too overpowering. A dusting of grated Parmesan cheese lends a subtle salty finish without a sodium overload. And if the weather cooperates, have this bowl alfresco.

10. Drunken Pasta Wine needed: 1½ cupsHad one glass of wine before bed last night, and now you’re faced with almost an entire bottle to use up before it goes bad? Enter drunken pasta. The noodles spend half their cooking time in water and the other half soaking in a bath of red, so don’t scrimp on quality here—the recipe recommends a good Chianti or Zinfandel. Pecorino Romano cheese, parsley, garlic, and chili peppers are the only other ingredients needed to make this healthful and dramatic dish  Just look at that striking mauve tint—total dinner party/date-night material!

11. Quinoa Risotto Wine needed: 1 cupRisotto is delicious, but let’s face it, it takes foreeeeeever to prepare. This recipe uses gluten-free quinoa in place of rice to drastically slash the cooking—and stirring—time. The rest of the ingredients are familiar risotto turf, including a full cup of dry white wine (leftover Pinot Grigio fits the bill) to lend a deeper, slightly acidic layer to the otherwise creamy concoction. Spinach adds a pop of color and some extra iron and vitamin K too.

12. Red Wine Chocolate CakeWine needed: 1 cupA cake that contains wine and chocolate and still remains whole wheat, vegan, and free of refined sugar? Your Internet prayers have been answered. Love Food Eat’s recipe cleverly mixes a cup of red wine with strawberry jam and olive oil for a lightly sweet and slightly fruity dessert, while a heavy hit of cocoa powder ensures it’s still super chocolatey. Whole wheat baked goods run the risk of being overly dense, but the moisture from the alcohol keeps this one fluffy. It’s the ultimate “have your cake and eat it too” sitch. 

13. Cherry Merlot WinesiclesWine needed: 1½ cupsIt’s Good Humor all grown up. Containing a double dose of antioxidants from the fruit and wine and just a touch of simple syrup, these three-ingredient popsicles deserve a spot on your regular dessert rotation. While this recipe calls for cherries and Merlot, it’s got our wheels turning for countless other equally healthy, cocktail-inspired combos: blackberries and Pinot Noir, blueberries and Cabernet, peaches and Prosecco… go forth and experiment!

14. Red Wine Chocolate TrufflesWine needed: ½ cupPaleo people, rejoice: red wine is generally recognized as acceptable on the “caveman” diet. Honor those ancient urges for wine and chocolate by making these ridiculously easy, four-ingredient Paleo truffles. No specific type of red needed here; use whatever you have on hand and the results will still be smooth, rich, and melt-in-your-mouth delectable. Small but filling, they’re also a smart, portion-controlled way to tame a sweet tooth. 

15. Sparkling Wine Jelly Wine needed: Just under 1½ cupsOpened some bubbly yesterday but ended the night before you could end the bottle? Put that extra brut to good use in this gorgeous sparkling wine jelly. Gelatin gives a wobbly texture while agave drops a hint of sweetness. Topped with dainty raspberries (bonus vitamin C!) and served in goblets, it’s an elegant and refreshing dessert that looks way more complicated than the simple refrigeration that’s required. 

16. Red Wine Chocolate Fudge BrowniesWine needed: ¼ cup + 2 tablespoonsWhen done right, wine plus chocolate is a match made in antioxidant heaven; the intensity of the former highlights the subtle nuances of the latter. But, as this recipe shows, the proof is in the batter. There's no skimping on the butter or sugar here, but these treats are made with whole foods and have an ultra fudgey finish.  A luscious glaze tops off the whole shebang. 

For 27 awesome ways to use leftover wine, go to Greatist.com.

 

 

Make food gifts but keep it simple, Santa

“It is better to give than to receive” never seems more heartfelt than when you make gifts from your kitchen — and because purses are tight this season, there’s never been a better year to make your way into your loved ones’ heart by way of their stomach.

But what to make? And how to wrap? Use these trusty tips to make your season simple and bright.

● Choose recipes that are easy, and don’t overload yourself by choosing too many things — whittle your list to three or four things you know how to do well or that aren’t new challenges.

● Recipes that contain custards and other egg-based yummies that require refrigeration won’t do. Make sure the food you’re packing is safe for the trip — even if the trip is across town to grandma’s house.

● Choose cookies, bars and candies that travel well and will keep their shape — that triple chocolate fudge-iced cake the shape of the Eiffel Tower probably isn’t the best choice. Less froufrou is more.

● Give away a pint of that apple butter you made back in September. Family members will be spreading your love all year (or for as long as it lasts).

● Read through your recipes in advance. It’s awful to find out the night before you need something that it was supposed to have steeped for four weeks in bourbon or that you can’t find those black walnuts called for at Publix or Kroger.

But don’t stop there. Save cash, go green and get creative with some ideas for packaging your goodies that come from the kitchen, as well. Just open your pantry and find a plethora of parcels you can save from the trash can (and the landfill).

● Use an old nut can for a cookie or fudge tin: Remove the outer label, then trim and glue some festive paper for a bright new look. Wrap with a bow and presto chango, you’re ready to fill it with goodies.

● Use glass (or plastic) oil or vinegar bottles for packaging homemade vanilla or homemade vinegars and ciders.

● Instead of buying tins for cookies, use Mason jars to stack the cookies inside and then tie with a bright bow. Soap jars work well for this, too.

● Use aluminum foil to wrap cookies lengthwise (like a roll) and tie with pretty bows at each end. Tape the foil at the seam to ensure it doesn’t open.

● Line small jewelry pouches with plastic wrap and fill with your favorite spice bouquets — cinnamon sticks, allspice, whole cloves, dried lemon peel — or make a bouquet garni of dried herbs to attach to a recipe that uses them.

If you’re like me, you’ve got a dozen or so baskets in your attic just begging to be useful. Get them down, clean them up and use them to hold small tins, bottles and cookie rolls. Then give an entire basket of gifts for the season.

Still need ideas? Here’s what I’m giving this year (spoiler alert to family members and friends): baskets filled with jars of honey from my beehive, Concord grape jelly that I made in September, cookies and candy (like the sugar cookies below) and a cookbook from my collection. I’ll package it with shrink-wrap (available at Michaels and other craft stores) or tie the whole thing up with a festive kitchen towel and wrap with a bow. Merry, merry.

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Homemade Vanilla

Hands on: 10 minutes Total time: At least 3 weeks to steep Makes: 32 ounces

It’s easy to make your own vanilla — and even more fun to give it away to that favorite baker on your gift list. If the price of the beans is too steep (they can cost anywhere from $5 to $6 a bean), feel free to cut this recipe in half and use a smaller bottle. That way, you’ll save on cash and booze.

4 vanilla beans

32 ounces vodka or rum

Clean an old oil bottle by removing the lid and strainer and letting it sit in soapy water for an hour. Remove and rinse well; set aside to dry. Alternatively, you can use any decorative bottle that is food safe.

Place the vanilla beans inside the bottle; pour the vodka or rum over the beans. Let the mixture sit for at least 3 weeks — the longer the better — before giving as a gift. Keeps indefinitely.

Per 1-ounce serving: 65 calories (no calories from fat), no protein, no carbohydrates, no fiber, no fat (no saturated), no cholesterol, trace sodium.

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Festive Mulled Wine

Hands on: 10 minutes Total time: 10 minutes Serves: 4

Spice pouch for red wine:

1 stick cinnamon

4 whole cloves

½ teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon dried rosemary, minced

½ teaspoon dried lemon peel

½ cup granulated sugar

1 bottle (750 milliliter) medium-dry red wine

In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon, cloves, allspice, rosemary, lemon peel and sugar. Line a spice or jewelry pouch with plastic, and fill with spice mixture. Keeps for 6 months. Attach pouch to bottle of red wine as a gift.

Per serving: 242 calories (percent of calories from fat, 1), trace protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, trace fat (no saturated), no cholesterol, 121 milligrams sodium.

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All-in-One Sugar Cookies

Hands on: 15 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes Makes: about 3 dozen cookies

This recipe can be used for anything: Roll out shapes, bake and decorate or drop them from a spoon and drizzle with colored sugar. Or add chocolate chips, nuts or other candies to make a different cookie with each batch. When refrigerated properly, this dough doesn’t move much during baking, making it perfect for cut-out cookies.

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

½ cup shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2¼ cups all-purpose flour (plus more for rolling out)

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until creamy. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

In another bowl, sift together the baking powder, salt and flour. Add to the creamed mixture and blend until incorporated.

For cut-out cookies: Scrape the dough onto a piece of parchment paper, spread into a 4-by-6-inch rectangle, wrap with the paper and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll, cut and bake as desired. Cut-out cookies take 10 minutes to bake.

For drop cookies: Bake plain or mix in 8 ounces chips, nuts or chopped candies as desired. Using a tablespoon or small ice cream scoop, drop by spoonfuls onto a prepared cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

Per serving: 106 calories (percent of calories from fat, 50), 1 gram protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 6 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 13 milligrams cholesterol, 46 milligrams sodium.

Cookie decorating parties not just for kids

I have a secret to confess.

For the past 10 years, I’ve hosted a holiday cookie party. Not for me and my friends, but for my 12-year-old and her friends.

I’ve watched them pile cookies with everything from Red Hots to M&Ms in lime green icing, throw spiced gumdrops and butterscotch morsels into butter cookie batter, and cover bell-shaped gingerbread cookies with enough sugar and sprinkles to light the Chattahoochee on fire.

Let’s just say subtlety isn’t a strong point with the pre-teen set.

Every year, I fight the strong urge to take all the cookies and decorate them myself. Oh, how I dream of delicately dipping each little mitten-shaped morsel into beautiful white flow icing, drizzling it ever-so-precisely with red icing and “pulling” the icing back and forth with a toothpick to make a woven design.

Or piping a delicate design of dots on the smooth, white background of that star-shaped butter cookie. How adorable my gingerbread man would be, with his red buttons and white cap.

Where’s my party?

It’s right here! This year, cookie parties are for grown-ups. And here are the season’s best tips on how to throw one, from a one-dough-does-it-all cookie dough to the cheese ball and wine to accompany. Get your friends together and decorate to your heart’s delight, the grown-up way.

Limit the number of guests at your party to how much space you have in your kitchen. Usually a space at the kitchen table, plus a chair, is all one person needs for decorating. I like to set up work — make that play — stations for each guest, with a festive, wipeable placemat for each person to work on. Give guests a set of four to five paper cone-shaped piping bags, plus a spoon and knife (with no serrated edge) for spreading icing. Provide a cookie tin or decorative bag for each guest to put their finished cookies in, then print the recipe for your cookie dough and you’ve just given each friend a great gift for the season.

In the center of the table, place the needed ingredients and tools. I always fill festive bowls with things that make great cookie toppers: edible glitter, colorful sprinkles, nonpareils, jimmies and colored sugars all make for beautiful, grown-up-looking cookies. It’s also great to have two or three of the following:

● Bags of colored icing prepared with star, leaf and round tips for piping that everyone can share.

● Large and small decorating spatulas.

● Small bowls of extra icing for spreading and refilling piping bags.

Have a separate “station” set up in your kitchen for rolling out cookies. Most people like to roll out and cut cookies, too. Make sure it’s neat and easily accessible with extra flour, a rolling pin and lots of cookie cutters. A bench scraper and off-set (angled) spatula will help with keeping the surface area free of sticky dough and for loosening dough after it’s been rolled out.

It’s also fun to have bowls of ingredients such as chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, nuts, coconut and candy pieces available to add to ready-made doughs. I make extra cookie dough, but you can buy your dough and mix goodies in, too. Make sure the dough is soft enough for hand-mixing, so that you won’t need a mixer unless you just happen to want to have one out.

Guests can drop these cookies on to prepared cookie sheets or roll logs of cookies into sprinkles or sugar and bake away. If you don’t have lots of cookie sheets, borrow, buy, or use disposable aluminum baking sheets (just remember to recycle them!).

To make sure drop cookies are uniform in size, use a mini ice cream scoop for scooping them onto cookie sheets. I use Silpat silicone mats to line my cookie sheets for baking, but parchment paper works, too. A timer helps to remind guests of when to take cookies out of the oven. To remove cookies from baking sheets, have an angled spatula at the ready — and don’t forget to have a place near the oven for placing baked cookies to cool.

Have white and red wines for guests to sip (or cocktails), and a few savory nibbles on hand elsewhere in the kitchen. Unlike preteens, adults aren’t going to want to nosh all afternoon on a bowl of gumdrops. I’ve included a recipe for an easy-to-make cheese ball — throw on some crackers and dig in.

Before the party, make extra dough and freeze it, then thaw the morning of the party. Clear out lots of space in your fridge and freezer for extra dough. Roll, cut and bake at least two dozen cookies, so guests can start decorating as soon as they arrive. Have a few batches of royal icing, in holiday colors, ready for use. During the party, keep guests rotating from decorating, to rolling out, to dropping and baking — that way you’ll have an even flow of activity and everyone will leave with a variety of cookies.

For decorating tips, see the recipes, below. Looking for the cookie baking supplies mentioned above? Try the Baker’s Catalogue from King Arthur Flour (www.kingarthurflour.com ), head to an area Michael’s craft store or check out Cake Art PartyStore at 3744 Lawrenceville Highway in Tucker (770-493-1305, www.cakeart.com ).

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One-Dough-Does-It-All Cookie Dough

Hands-on: 15 minutes Total time: varies with each cookie Serves: about 4 dozen cookies, depending on size

This buttery dough has a magical way of not spreading when used for rolled-and-cut cookies, and is perfect as a backdrop for drop cookies — add chips, nuts or other goodies to vary the kind of cookie you want. It’s taken from a Better Homes & Garden Christmas Cookie magazine I found on the shelf of my supermarket back in 2003, and I’ve been using it ever since.

½ cup unsalted butter

½ cup shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 and ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

 

In a large bowl of an electric mixer beat butter and shortening until blended. Add sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and blend well. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry mixture in three steps, until combined. Do not over mix.

For drop cookies: Add ½ to 1 cup chocolate chips, nuts, etc. Scoop with a mini ice cream scoop onto Silpat-lined cookie sheets. Bake 8 to 12 minutes.

For roll-and-cut cookies: Chill the dough for at least three hours, or overnight. Heavily flour a smooth surface. Pat the dough into a 6-by-9-inch rectangle. Roll out, using a heavily floured rolling pin, to ¼-inch thickness. Use a large icing spatula to shimmy under the dough to loosen from the surface. Using floured cookie cutters, cut into shapes. Place immediately on cool cookie sheets. Note; if dough begins to spread during baking, chill the cut cookies for ten minutes prior to baking. Bake shaped cookies for ten minutes.

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Royal Icing

Hands-on: 10 minutes Total time: depends on the cookie Serves: Will ice approximately 4 dozen cookies

This icing is considered indispensable in the professional bake shop, used on everything from cookies to wedding cakes. Meringue powder (available at baking supply shops and some groceries) makes it stable and food safe. Keep the icing covered with a damp paper towel on its surface when not in use or a sugar crust will form on the surface.

1 one-pound box (approximately 4 cups) 10X confectioner’s sugar

3 level tablespoons meringue powder (I use Wilton)

6 tablespoons lukewarm water

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, whip together the sugar, meringue powder and water until blended. Continue whipping on low speed for seven to ten minutes, until the icing is light and fluffy. Note: Add more water, a teaspoon at a time, if the icing seems too stiff for piping or spreading. Color the icing with gel paste food colors (available at bakers’ supply stores) if desired. Keep the icing covered with a damp paper towel – touching the surface — to prevent a crust from forming.

For flow icing: This kind of icing is perfect for dipping cookie shapes, or spreading the icing with a paint brush. Add ½ cup warm water to the above recipe (omit the 6 tablespoons of water), until the icing barely drips from the end of the whip. Decorating tips: 1. Dip the top side of cookie and let sit for the icing to spread, then pipe a border of royal icing around the edge of your cookie. Or, you can pipe the border first, then fill in with a small paint brush. 2. Before the icing sets, pipe a colored icing of similar consistency in lines across the surface of the cookie, then “pull” the lines with a toothpick to create a woven look. 3. Let the icing dry completely and pipe designs with royal icing for a textured look. Just before the icing dries, dip the edges of the cookie into sugar, sprinkles or jimmies.

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That’s-So-70s-Cheese Ball

Hands-on: 15 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes Serves: 12

Cheese balls are back! This easy recipe is perfect for a keeping your cookie party guests happy – just add your favorite cracker.

8 ounces Belle Chevre brand (or other flavored goat cheese) pimento-flavored goat cheese

8 ounces cream cheese

8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1/2 cup minced herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano

1 cup dried cranberries

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the goat cheese, cream cheese, shredded cheese, garlic and minced herbs. Form into a ball. Roll the ball in the dried cranberries. Cover and refrigerate one hour before serving.

Christmas breakfast with the family

Thanksgiving may have a pre-set menu, but the meals Christmas Day — not to mention the options for Christmas Eve and Boxing Day — offer a lot more room to be creative. And though many of us skimp on breakfast much of the time, Christmas morning is tailor-made for serving something luxurious.

If you want to prepare a special breakfast but don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen away from family and friends, we’ve got recipes: A strata and freshly baked sticky buns can be prepared a day or two ahead, requiring only a preheated oven and a little baking time to get them table-ready.

If you’d like to spend your time after the presents have been opened with everyone gathered in the kitchen helping, then you could make pancakes or waffles, or go a little more international with our Parisian Street Vendor Crepes.

To see what we could learn about working ahead, we talked to Susan Reid, editor of King Arthur Flour’s subscription newsletter the Baking Sheet — a bimonthly magazine filled with seasonal recipes and answers to readers’ questions.

Reid grew up in New Jersey, one of six kids. “On Christmas morning, my mother serves a strata, prepping the whole thing the night before, and using the time/bake feature on her stove. When we get home from church, the strata is 15 minutes away from being done.” The Reid family strata features cheese, mushrooms and sausage. With 27 people in the immediate family, the strata has to stretch pretty far, augmented with orange juice, coffee and an avalanche of baked goods.

What about those baked goods, and especially the ones made with yeast? Reid had lots of tips to offer based on her readers’ questions and those called in to King Arthur’s bakers hotline (802-649-3717).

Rapid rise yeast is what Reid calls a “sprinter,” good for a dough that has only one rise. Use instant or active dry yeast for doughs that rise once, then are shaped and rise a second time before baking. They’re exchangeable in most recipes.

Using water to “test” the yeast to see if it’s still alive is a holdover from the past, when active dry yeast was the only type most people used. It’s still a good idea with active dry yeast, but unless your instant yeast is very old, you can just incorporate it into your dough with the rest of the ingredients.

Don’t worry about how much flour to use when the recipe calls for a range, like 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups. “The answer is that you need to put your hands in the dough,” Reid said. If it’s wet and sticky, add more flour. The idea is to start with the low number and add more if it’s needed.

Sweet doughs need to be soft and a little sticky to make tender products. Flour your hands instead of the dough to make working with it easier.

You’ll never have to be intimidated by the temperature of the water or other liquid you’re adding to your dough if you’ll remember that yeast is a living creature, and it wants to grow in an environment that’s just a little warmer than your body temperature. “If it’s comfortable for your hand, it’s comfortable for the yeast,” Reid said. Err on the side of cooler if you have any question, because yeast will grow even in your refrigerator. But if the liquid is too hot, you’ll kill it.

You can slow down any yeast dough at any stage by refrigerating it. Mix the dough in the morning, put it in an oiled bag, take it out in the evening, shape it and it’s ready to go. That’s what bakeries do. The long, slow rise in the refrigerator makes for more flavor.

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Whether you want a delicious hot breakfast that can bake while the family is opening gifts or you’re looking for something that will give everyone a reason to gather in the kitchen, we’ve got three great ideas for you.

Parisian Street Vendor Crepes

Hands on: 20 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, includes standing time for batter Makes: 20 (6-inch) crepes

Crepes are just a skinnier version of pancakes, served with a delicious filling. Crepe batter takes just a minute to make but needs a few minutes to rest before cooking. While the batter is resting, you can prepare your filling. We’ve offered two filling suggestions, but the possibilities are endless. A classically trained chef would tell you that a well-prepared crepe should be perfectly smooth and have no color, or maybe just a few freckles.

For the crepes:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

11/2 cups (12 ounces) milk

4 large eggs

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Nutella and banana filling, per crepe:

1 tablespoon Nutella

1/2 banana, sliced

Confectioners’ sugar for garnish, optional

For ham and cheese filling, per crepe:

1 tablespoon chopped deli ham

1 tablespoon grated Swiss cheese

In a blender, combine flour, milk, eggs, butter and salt. Blend until smooth. Cover and allow batter to sit for at least 1 hour.

Heat a 6-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Spray the pan lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Pour a scant 1/3 cup batter into the bottom of the pan, pick it up and tip it in a circle so the batter covers the bottom of the pan. Cook until the top no longer looks shiny and edges start to lift from the pan, about 30 seconds. Use an offset spatula or butter knife to lift edge of crepe and flip it over in the pan. Cook for 15 seconds more and move to a warm plate. Repeat with remaining batter.

Fill crepes while still warm. For Nutella and banana filling, spread crepe with Nutella, add banana, then fold into quarters. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. For ham and cheese crepes, toss ham and cheese together and fill crepe. Fold into quarters.

Adapted from “The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion” (Countryman Press, $35)

Per crepe (plain): 92 calories (percent of calories from fat, 38), 3 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 4 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 51 milligrams cholesterol, 76 milligrams sodium.

Per crepe, with Nutella and banana: 224 calories (percent of calories from fat, 33), 5 grams protein, 34 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 9 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 51 milligrams cholesterol, 91 milligrams sodium.

Per crepe, with ham and cheese: 132 calories (percent of calories from fat, 46), 7 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 7 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 62 milligrams cholesterol, 205 milligrams sodium.

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Make-ahead Sticky Buns

Hands on: 30 minutes Total time: 1 hour, plus chilling time 
Makes: 16 rolls

For cooks who are new to yeast, the baking powder in this dough provides extra insurance for a light roll. The dough does all its rising in the refrigerator, so you can start these rolls a day or two ahead of time, then just take them out of the refrigerator as you preheat the oven.

Turn these buns into cinnamon rolls by eliminating the glaze and topping the baked rolls with an icing of confectioners’ sugar mixed with just enough milk to make a spreadable consistency. Or make honey buns by substituting honey for the corn syrup called for in the glaze.

For the dough:

1 cup warm water

1 package (1/4 ounce, 21/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional if needed

1/2 cup instant potato flakes

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup nonfat dry milk

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 egg

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

For the filling:

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened

2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the glaze:

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

In a measuring cup, combine water and yeast and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine 3 cups flour, potato flakes, sugar, dry milk, butter, vanilla, egg, baking powder and salt. Turn on mixer to low speed to combine. Slowly pour in yeast mixture and continue mixing on slow speed until a soft dough is formed, about 5 minutes. If dough is too soft, add up to 1/2 cup additional flour. The goal is a soft sticky dough but one that holds its shape on the dough hook.

In a medium mixing bowl or food-safe plastic bag, add vegetable oil and swirl to coat all sides. Put dough into bowl or bag. Cover or seal and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

When ready to shape rolls, remove dough from refrigerator. While still cold, roll out on oiled work surface into a 12-by-16-inch rectangle. In a small bowl, make filling by blending sugar, butter and cinnamon together with your fingers. Spread across dough. Starting with a long edge, roll the dough into a log. Using a serrated knife, slice dough into 16 pieces.

Lightly grease two 9-inch round pans. Make the glaze by combining brown sugar, corn syrup and butter in microwave-safe measuring cup and heating 1 minute, or until butter is melted. Stir to combine, and then pour half into each prepared pan. Sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans over glaze in each pan. Place one sliced bun in the center of each pan, and surround with 7 more pieces. Cover pans and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

When ready to serve, remove buns from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until tops are lightly golden brown and buns feel firm when pressed. Remove buns from oven and invert them onto a serving dish. Scrape off any sticky topping that has remained in the pan onto the buns.

Adapted from a recipe at www.kingarthurflour.com

Per roll: 324 calories (percent of calories from fat, 40), 4 grams protein, 45 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 15 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 29 milligrams cholesterol, 213 milligrams sodium.

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Merry Christmas Strata

Hands on: 30 minutes Total time: 1 hour, plus chilling time Serves: 6

A strata is a savory bread pudding, an easy make-ahead dish that’s completely adaptable. The red and green bell peppers strike just the right holiday note but you can substitute roasted red peppers and fresh or canned green chiles if you prefer. Replace the ham with sausage, or simply eliminate the meat; swap out cheddar or Swiss for the Asiago; use mustard instead of pesto or adapt the flavors to suit your guests.

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, divided

1/2 cup (about 1/2 small) finely chopped onions

1/2 cup (about 1/2 small) diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup (about 1/2 small) diced green bell pepper

12 cups stale bread, 
cut in 1-inch cubes

1 cup (about 1/2 pound) diced ham

2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated Asiago, divided

5 eggs

21/2 cups milk

11/2 tablespoons pesto, optional

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon Tabasco

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

In small skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter and sauté onions, red and green bell peppers over low heat until softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Spray a 2-quart baking dish with nonstick spray. In a large mixing bowl, toss bread cubes, sautéed onions and peppers, ham and 11/2 cups Asiago. Put bread cube mixture in baking dish.

Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter and, in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together with eggs, milk, pesto, salt, Tabasco and pepper. Slowly pour over bread cube mixture. Push top of the bread down into the milk and egg mixture to be sure all pieces are covered. Sprinkle remaining Asiago over the top. Cover dish with wax paper and then foil, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove wax paper and foil and place baking dish in upper third of oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until puffy and brown. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Adapted from “Morning Food: From Cafe Beaujolais” by Margaret S. Fox and John Bear (1994, paperback)

Per serving: 617 calories (percent of calories from fat, 56), 30 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 38 grams fat (20 grams saturated), 278 milligrams cholesterol, 1,354 milligrams sodium.

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Christmas morning indulgences

● Prepare buttered hot cider by adding a little sugar and orange juice to apple juice or cider, and then heating with spices such as whole cloves and cinnamon sticks. Stir in 1/2 tablespoon of butter before serving

● Serve spiced tea by steeping your regular brew with whole spices such as cinnamon and cardamom pods. Strain the spices, serve with milk and sweeten to taste.

● Put a spoonful of whipped cream on top of fresh hot coffee. You’re drinking kaffee mit schlag, a Viennese favorite.

● Ambrosia is the classic Christmas fruit salad. Serve a creamy version by stirring in a mixture of 1 part sour cream, 1 part yogurt and 1 part whipped cream. Sweeten to taste.

● Try a hot fruit dish by combining fresh or canned fruit with a few tablespoons of butter and brown sugar. The classic combination is peaches with a little amaretto.

● Or sauté bananas with butter, some brown sugar or honey and the liqueur or extract of your choice.

● Whip up a quiche using a homemade or store-bought pie crust with the same filling (minus the bread cubes) as that in our Merry Christmas Strata.

● Make decadent French toast using a soaking mixture created by melting your favorite flavor of ice cream and mixing it with three eggs.

● Mix honey, maple syrup and rum or rum flavoring to make a special syrup for pancakes or French toast.

● Offer grits but instead of serving them with eggs and bacon, make a cream sauce, spiced with a little jalapeño or bell pepper, and add steamed shrimp.

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